The word “suicide” in conversation is not exactly an icebreaker. Nevertheless, if you have a family member or close friend who is a suicide survivor, learning how to talk about suicide will help your friends and family cope, and it might aid your loved one’s recovery.
My own suicide attempt was years ago, and I was very lucky to overcome and survive such an unfortunate act. I’m now aware—and I wasn’t then—of how I could have ruined my family’s and friends’ lives. And with time, the event has become a mere anecdote, a hazy memory that I had almost totally forgotten until a few days ago, when someone I know showed signs of “wanting out.” It all came back to me. I understood the desolation, desperation, isolation, helplessness and the feeling of wanting to give up on life that my friend was experiencing. She is now getting help, emotional support and positive feedback from friends and family.
Once someone attempts and—hopefully—survives a suicide attempt, the danger and damage are not over. The suicidal person’s life, and the life of those around her, is shattered. Her friends and family will forever live fearing that she might try it again, and they will treat her differently. The suicide survivor has to rebuild their trust while she is recovering. She needs help and understanding as she is trying to learn to live with what she did while preventing it from happening again.
HAVE THE CONVERSATION
According to communication specialist JD Schramm, studies suggest that 19 out of 20 people who try to commit suicide fail. That’s the good news. The bad news is that those who fail on a first attempt are 37 times more likely to succeed the second time. With this in mind, the best thing we can do is be there for those who did not succeed the first time around, and try to keep them away from that second attempt.
Read Related: Death and Coping Skills That Work
Our discomfort at talking about suicide aside, most people, when prodded, are willing to share their pain and experience surrounding death, a suicide attempt or any other tough issue. Talking out pain, fear and problems helps people feel understood. A sense of belonging helps them heal emotionally.
While most people are afraid to talk about the suicide attempt with the perpetrator, for fear of saying the wrong thing, ignoring the elephant in the room leaves suicide survivors feeling even more isolated. That could take them back to where they were right before the attempt. So talk to them, talk about their suicide attempt, and don’t leave the conversation, even when it gets difficult. Letting your loved one know you’re in her corner is the best gift you can give a suicide survivor.
HOW TO APPROACH THE SUBJECT
- Ask questions. A simple question about how she is doing will initiate the talk. Don’t push but subtly ask: How are you doing? How are you recovering? Once the conversation is out in the open, ask: How were you feeling when you decided to take your life?
- Listen, acknowledge and relate. Relate whenever possible with the sadness she felt, her isolation or pain. Everyone has experienced some of those feelings at some point. If you can relate to the desperation or sadness you can say: I understand the feeling, however I was able to cope by…(and then give an example).
- Don’t give advice. Just listen. If you went through a difficult time yourself, just share how you got over it. Ask her to tell you her story…slowly. Stay calm, and don’t appear shocked at what you hear, nor ask for the “gory details” if they’re not offered.
- Treat her like a normal person. After all, she is one. She just needs to find the tools and build her resilience to overcome the pain and desperation and learn to live life on life’s terms.
- JD Schramm: Break the Silence for Suicide Survivors
- The Trevor Project—The leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline