• Jo Rust

What not to say to a suicide attempt survivor

If you are someone in need of help, or if you know of someone who is in need of help:





Suicide can be a very sensitive topic. Both to a survivor of a suicide attempt, people close to a survivor of a suicide attempt and those who have lost someone to suicide.


According to The Way Forward, a report by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention in the USA: "The people with the most intimate information about suicidal thoughts, feelings, and actions are those who have lived through such experiences. We all have an opportunity to learn from those with lived experiences around suicide so we can do better in the future to foster hope and help people find meaning and purpose in life."


I consider myself an expert on this topic after more than half a dozen failed suicide attempts. It's very difficult for most people to talk about this because you already feel like a failure in life and these cognitive distortions tend to get cemented in by others blaming and judging you when you are at your most vulnerable.


Yes, we are all ultimately responsible for our own actions. Everyone experiences and deals with trauma differently, therefor I cannot speak on behalf of all suicide survivors. So I'll try and best describe what I personally go through before a suicide attempt in the hope that it might help you gain a better understanding of what goes through one's mind. (PLEASE NOTE: I am not condoning suicidality, merely attempting to convey information for the purpose of understanding)



YOU'RE SO SELFISH or YOU'RE SUCH A COWARD or YOU'RE SO WEAK or YOU CHOSE THE EASY WAY OUT or YOU'RE SUCH A FAILURE


First and foremost, this is not helpful, at all. Having someone close to you attempt to take their own life can be a very traumatic experience in itself. Though, your friend, partner, family member is the one in crisis and needs support and understanding above all else to be able to overcome whatever it is that has driven them to reach this point.


When I am suicidal, I am quite literally incapable of rational thinking. Because I suffer from Complex PTSD (in my case as a result of - years upon years of traumatic experiences), my brain has learned to dissociate or 'detach' from my immediate environment/ reality in an attempt to protect myself from experiencing overwhelming pain. I'll try my best to explain what that feels like: Try and imagine the world around you looking and feeling a bit fuzzy. When looking at people, animals, inanimate objects around you, they don't seem real. It's like you're in a dream. You don't feel anything and it's like you're just an observer. (This is called Derealization)


As a result of the C-PTSD and because I also suffer from Social Anxiety (which I've mostly overcome thanks to my year-long exposure therapy session riding around the African continent on my own. The symptoms still persist though) - emotions can be very overwhelming to me. So I'm either not feeling anything or feeling too much. Meaning I struggle with emotional regulation - again stemming from the Complex PTSD. When I'm suicidal, I'm not thinking about how I can hurt someone. (Dissociative Disorders usually develop as a way of dealing with trauma) Before the dissociation, the two main feelings I experience are that of being overwhelmingly fearful, hurt, alone, and the situation being hopeless. (Most) People don't commit suicide because they want to hurt someone. (Most) People commit suicide because they are hurting really badly and feel utterly alone and cannot see a way out. (Not having ever been taught or failing to have equipped yourself with the tools to effectively cope with trauma is also an important contributing factor)


Suicide is not a cowardice act or the 'easy way out'. Though this might be difficult for most people to truly (want to) understand. I can assure you, that the times that I did not dissociate before attempting suicide, I felt overwhelming fear. It takes a lot of courage because, if successful, there are no 'backsies'. That being said, it takes even more courage to ask for help.



THINK ABOUT ALL THAT YOU HAVE GOING FOR YOU or YOU HAVE SUCH AN AMAZING JOB/ PARTNER/ KIDS/ HOUSE/ LIFE or YOU HAVE SO MUCH TO OFFER or THINK OF ALL THE PAIN YOU WOULD HAVE CAUSED


Again, that's not what this is about. The focus should be on the contributing factors that have caused this person to land up taking such extreme measures. It's like my telling you to think of the amazing house or job or family you have whilst you're busy having a heart attack. How does that help you survive what you are going through? It doesn't. You need professional help and care to get through a heart attack. And it's 100% the same for suicide attempt survivors. Just because you might not be able to physically see the overwhelming pain this person is experiencing, doesn't mean it's not there. With years of practice, we become VERY good at hiding our pain and true emotions and will only open up to someone who we perceive to TRULY care and wants to understand WHY.



IT'S OKAY TO SAY THE WORDS 'SUICIDE' or 'I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO SAY/DO'


A lot of people struggle with not knowing what to say or how to say it after someone you care about has attempted to take their own life. The fear is that if you say something wrong, you might cause for this person to try it again. As difficult as it is to accept - a suicide is no one's fault except for the person who took their own life. Even though I am unable to think rationally during a suicide attempt - the choice is ultimately my own. In my experience, being afraid of using the word 'suicide' is purely due to fear and not knowing what to say or how to handle such a sensitive subject.


When you're in a psychiatric clinic/ hospital - everyone, at one point or another, will ask the question: "so why are you here?" The last time I was admitted to hospital I had this experience. I was standing in the courtyard where a group of people were asking one another about their 'rap sheets'. No one in the group had been admitted as a result of a failed suicide attempt. (or perhaps just didn't want to admit that in front of others - because even in that environment people still fear judgement) When asked, I always answer candidly, not to 'shock' anyone - but merely to try and exhibit that "it's okay to talk about this". When I answered "attempted suicide", everyone went very quiet and eyes darted to the ground. Even people inside a mental health facility struggle to know how to approach someone who has attempted to take their own life. So don't be too hard on yourself for feeling like you don't know what to say. Saying: "I don't know what to say" or "I don't know how to handle this situation" is perfectly okay. You don't have to 'fix' this person. Your only job as a friend or loved one is to be supportive & non-judgmental. If this is something you feel incapable of doing, it would perhaps be a good idea to take a step back and consider the possibility that you yourself need help in processing trauma. I hope this information has been somewhat insightful and useful to you. Bottom line is that someone who has attempted suicide is an individual who is in crisis and in need of a great deal of understanding, care, love and patience.


If you are someone in need of help, or if you know of someone who is in need of help: