Supporting a loved one after a suicide attempt or after expressing experiencing suicidal thoughts can be challenging, and requires compassion, understanding, empathy and patience. Being there for someone on their journey can make a significant difference in their healing. The right kind of assistance can be provided by using a range of effective skills, such as actively listening, encouraging professional help, educating yourself, and offering practical assistance.
Here on HOPELINE247, the team of suicide prevention advisers are trained in supporting young people who are both currently, or have previously, experienced thoughts of suicide. We are also here to help to guide concerned others in offering appropriate support to a young person they believe may be experiencing suicidal thoughts. While it is not possible to remove all the risk factors that impact on a young person experiencing suicidal thoughts, there are many effective skills that can be implemented to help someone on their journey to healing.
PAPYRUS prefers to avoid the use of the phrase “recovery” following a suicide attempt or somebody openly disclosing their suicidal ideation and wanting to heal. Using the term “suicide recovery” can inadvertently send a misleading message, as it implies a one-size-fits-all outcome that may not reflect the diverse experiences of those experiencing suicidal thoughts. Instead, we strive to promote a healing journey, one that acknowledges the complexity of suicide and suicidal thoughts. This journey emphasises coping mechanisms, fostering hope, and nurturing a desire to heal. In recognising that not everyone may fully “recover” from their suicidal thoughts, we emphasise the importance of progress and growth rather than the unrealistic expectation of complete restoration. It’s a path that invites people to explore their own unique paths to healing, seeking the support they need, and discovering the strength within themselves to forge ahead, even when the journey may be challenging.
How you can help someone after a suicide attempt:
Being an active and compassionate listener is one of the most important ways to support someone on their healing path. By providing a non-judgemental space, this allows them to share their thoughts and feelings and to express themselves openly. Actively listening to their concerns and letting them know you are there for them and genuinely care, can provide a sense of comfort and validation. It is better to listen and respond with open questions rather than to offer your opinion or specific advice. It is important not to make them feel guilty, but to let them know they are not worthless, and that they contribute meaningfully to the lives of others. It is advisable to avoid expressions that centre around negative consequences of their actions, such as ‘I’ll be so upset if you die’, or “what about the people who care about you?”. HOPELINE247 advisers support young people by providing them with a space to talk freely without fear of judgement, and encouraging callers to equip themselves with skills that will help their healing. These skills can include exploring new coping strategies and distraction techniques alongside working together on a safety plan for them to utilise and reflect on.
Encourage them to seek support from professionals
Alongside offering your own support, it is important to recognise that professional support can also be effective in healing. Offering to help your loved one find an appropriate mental health professional, such as a therapist, counsellor, or psychiatrist, can be incredibly empowering and valuable. HOPELINE247 advisers can work with young people to explore the options of support that would be most appropriate for their needs. This might include signposting ways to find suitable therapists or counsellors in their local area or offering to help them to find an appropriate mental health professional/support group that can work closely with them as they embark on their healing journey.
Learn about suicidal ideation
Respecting boundaries and avoiding pressuring your loved one to share more than they are comfortable with is integral to helping them feel valued and accepted. The speed of healing varies with each individual, and your patience as they navigate their journey plays a crucial role in its success. On HOPELINE247, we use communication skills to help those healing to feel less isolated and alone. We ensure we respect the boundaries of anyone contacting for support and avoid pressurising anyone to share more than they feel comfortable with.
Self-care plays a vital role in promoting mental and emotional wellbeing, and is something we actively promote across PAPYRUS and all our services – both internally and externally. Encouraging the person on their healing journey to prioritise self-care activities such as engaging in hobbies, practicing mindfulness, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can contribute to their journey. It is also essential to be mindful of your own self-care, which could be incorporated into joining them in activities they enjoy to encourage motivation and provide companionship.
Feelings of isolation can increase feelings of despair, so it is important to try and maintain consistent communication and stay connected, even through simple gestures like sending supportive messages. Regular check-ins and contact can help the person who has experienced suicidal thoughts feel less isolated and alone.
Offer practical assistance
Supporting someone ion a healing journey after a suicide attempt also involves helping with everyday tasks that might feel overwhelming to them. Offer practical assistance, such as running errands, preparing meals, or accompanying them to appointments. Small acts of kindness can go a long way in alleviating stress and showing your commitment.
Be prepared for ups and downs
Healing is rarely a linear process. There will be ups and downs along the way. Be prepared for setbacks and ‘relapses’, and assure your loved one that you are there to support them through every phase of their healing journey. On HOPELINE247, we encourage people to focus on the positive steps they have made on their journey so far, and work on acceptance that things will not always go to plan.
Supporting someone on the path to healing requires a combination of empathy, patience, and understanding. You can play a vital role in their healing process by actively listening, encouraging professional help, educating yourself, and offering practical assistance. Remember that your unwavering support can make a significant difference in their journey towards a healthier and happier life.