Loving Someone Through a Suicide Attempt
When the worst has happened, you need support.
Vita's Clinical Director, Jennifer Smith, shares advice for loving someone through a suicide attempt. Jennifer leads a clinical team trained on Vita's suicide care intervention — which can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt up to 60%.
After An Attempt: A Guide for Loved Ones
Author: Jennifer Smith, LCSW
Jennifer is Vita’s Clinical Director and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. She has more than 14 years of experience working as a mental health therapist.
This isn’t what you imagined, we know.
No one plans on supporting a loved one through a suicide attempt.
But here you are.
At Vita, we work with high-acuity patients every day — including those who have just experienced a suicide attempt. We gathered some of our most veteran clinicians to put together this guide.
So you’re not alone.
Your Experience Matters
If your loved one attempts suicide, they may be hospitalized or they may be at home with you immediately after an attempt. During this initial window, everyone involved can find themselves experiencing a wide range of emotions — with fear being one of the most commonly reported.
You might be terrified about another attempt. You might be angry, sad, or feeling a sense of shame.
Everyone impacted by the suicide attempt needs to have an outlet for these strong and very real emotions.
You too have experienced trauma and you too deserve professional help.
Working with a professional not only allows you to process a very challenging experience — but it also normalizes getting help. This makes it safer for your loved one who experienced the attempt to do the same.
Sharing Out vs. In
Your loved one’s recovery begins right away but it is a long-term journey that is different for everyone. It’s good to know that the first six months after an attempt are especially critical.
It can be helpful to picture your loved one at the center of a circle — at the center of the trauma.
And you are just outside the circle.
Practice sharing all the stress and negative emotions you’re experiencing to anyone further away from the circle than you. This can include mental health therapists, friends, or family members.
So if your stress and negative emotions go out, what goes in?
Love and patience.
If you’re discouraged about slow progress or setbacks, share out. When you feel a deep sense of gratitude that your loved one is still with you, share in.
Being Part of The Recovery
Your loved one will have a plan for recovery that may include in-patient care, psychiatric care, or working with a mental health therapist. They might be prescribed medications to take temporarily or for the longer term.
You can be part of their recovery.
Ask questions and really listen to their experience. If it makes sense based on your relationship, document their recovery plan and their progress. When you see positive gains, celebrate! And when you see setbacks, practice viewing them as temporary.
You can also set an example and support them in their self-care and behavior change. Research shows that very simple steps like sleeping enough, eating healthy foods, engaging socially, and moving the body reduces suicide risk over time.
Just note that it can be very tempting to push your loved one along in their recovery journey because you want to see progress.
Because progress means your loved one is safer and healthier.
But progress must come from your loved one. And each tiny step — even if it is nibbling on a piece of fruit or making it to their appointments — is a step in the right direction.
Specialized Help for People with Suicidal Thoughts or Behaviors
At Vita, we’re one of the only organizations providing care for high-acuity patients — including those who have recently attempted suicide or those with suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Our program has been shown to reduce attempts by up to 60%.
We’re here to help you and your loved one — and we have therapists available for appointments within 48 hours.
Vita Health team