After a suicide attempt

This information is to help you stay safe after a suicide attempt. It will help you find a way forward, to feel better and recover.
You are not alone – you can get through this.

Even though it might feel impossible right now, many people have been through experiences like this and found their way through.

You deserve to feel better and you can get there.

Life after a suicide attempt may feel confusing, but with time and the right support you can find your way back to a life filled with hope, connection and a new sense of purpose and meaning.

It takes time to recover, physically and emotionally. It's natural to have many feelings, thoughts and concerns. You might not know what to do or what to say. You might feel relieved and lucky, you might feel angry and disappointed. You might not feel anything at all. That’s okay.

This page is a starting point for working through some of the questions that can come up after a suicide attempt. It offers ideas about what may help you to stay safe and recover.

A great place to start is with our resource What happens now? It outlines five key steps you and the people supporting you can follow to help you find a way through. When you’re ready, you might also like to fill out a safety plan – we have a free one. This can help you to feel confident about what to do if you feel suicidal in the future.

There are many different options for you following a suicide attempt. You don’t have to read this whole page – skip to the parts that work for you and your experience right now.

If you’re feeling suicidal we have information for you here.

If you’re supporting someone who has attempted suicide, we have information for you here.

Staying safe

How to stay safe after a suicide attempt or self-harm

Even though it might feel impossible at the moment, many people have been through experiences like this and found their way through. You deserve to feel better, and you can get there too.

You might not feel like reading this right now. If you don’t, please hold on to it and come back to it when you’re ready.

If you have friends, whānau, counsellors or other people supporting you, you could let them read this too.

Who can I talk to?

If things are at crisis point for you right now, or you don’t feel you can cope or stay alive by yourself, call your local mental health crisis team or go to the emergency department at your nearest hospital. Try to find someone to stay with you until help arrives.

If you’re in danger right now, please call 111.

Write down the names and contacts for people you can talk to:
  • friends, whānau or other support people
  • your doctor
  • Other people (e.g. counsellor, peer support worker).

You could also:

  • go for a walk
  • practice some waiata
  • do breathing exercises
  • have a coffee
  • listen to calm music.

' “I didn’t know that life could be as good as it is. Sometimes I cry with gratitude at how much better it is now.” – Sam, 26 '

What to expect

... at the hospital

Going to the hospital can be scary or overwhelming, but it’s the best place to get urgent help – especially if you need medical attention. 

At hospital, medical staff will look at any physical injuries first. After these have been treated, they will then arrange for a mental health worker to come and talk about what was happening before the attempt.

This assessment will look at:
  • how your mood has been
  • how you’ve been managing your day to day activities (e.g. work, family or whānau responsibilities)
  • how your relationships have been going
  • alcohol and/or drug use such as how frequently and how much
  • if you have been experiencing any major stresses.

This is really just a conversation to look at what has happened, why and if any current risks remain.

Using the information from this discussion the health professional will assist you to make plans for the next few days and talk about what might be helpful in the coming weeks.

They might also make appointments or recommend you make contact with an appropriate health service.

... at your doctors

If you go to a local medical clinic or hauora, a family doctor (GP) will discuss what’s happened with you and see if you need further medical attention. 

If you don’t have urgent physical health issues, the doctor can then talk to you about what’s been happening for you, what supports are available, and if you think you might try to hurt yourself again. They might suggest going to see a counsellor or psychologist or refer you to your local community mental health team.

The GP’s goal will be to put plans in place to ensure you are safe and have support over the following days and weeks. They will probably suggest you return for follow-up appointments to check how you are going and whether you have enough support.

Heading home

Before you go home

When you’re ready and have the right support in place, you can return home. 

Sometimes services are full and you may feel you’re being asked to return home when you don’t feel safe to do so. If you do not feel safe to return home, say so, and ask what other options are available. It can be helpful to write this information down so that you can refer to it again later.

Before you head home make sure you understand:

  • What you can do to make it easier to get through the next few days (e.g. some small things you can do for yourself that help you to cope, like playing music, colouring, going for a walk or karakia).
  • What supports are available and useful to you when you return home – write these down and make sure they’re easy for you to get to
  • What you should do if you feel suicidal again – a kind of safety plan. You can download or order a free copy of our safety plan.
  • Names and contact details for counsellors or other support services or helplines like 1737.
  • Names and contact details for emergency services or your local mental health crisis team.

Safety plan

Many people find it is useful to prepare a safety plan. A safety plan is a series of steps that you follow if you start to feel suicidal again.

We have a safety plan you can use or your health professional may work with you to develop one. If you want to make your own, include:

  • Signs or triggers that tell you that you are becoming overwhelmed or suicidal.
  • What helps: strategies that you can use to help get through those times when the urge to end your life is greatest. This can be a combination of distractions and things that make you feel a bit better, such as talking to a good friend, going for a walk, watching a movie, having dinner with your family or whānau, prayer or karakia, etc.
  • What to avoid: for example, taking drugs and alcohol, being with people who stress you out
  • People you can talk to when you are struggling. This might include family or whānau members, friends, as well as doctors, counsellors, kaumātua/kuia, community or religious leaders.
  • Professional services to contact, including services that are available 24 hours a day, such as crisis telephone support services, hospitals and emergency services.

Health professional responses may differ

How a health professional responds to you will depend on their personal attitude towards suicide and their level of skill, confidence and comfort in responding to suicide attempts.

It may also change depending on how busy they are and how much support they have to spend time with you and listen to your concerns. Time pressures within the clinic or hospital may also affect the amount of time that they can spend with you.

Some people find it hard to talk about personal stuff – that’s OK, just tell the health professional that – it’s a great place to start!
Consider the advice the health professionals offer you, talk openly about any worries that you have, and ask questions so you fully understand your options for moving forward.

If you do not feel safe to return home, say so and ask what other options are available.

If you’re not happy with the care you receive, you’re entitled to complain. You may also like to find an advocate or peer support worker who can help ensure you are getting the right care and understand your rights.

Your feelings

What you might be thinking or feeling

There is no right or wrong way to feel following a suicide attempt. 

You can experience a range of feelings, and you might find these feelings can change quickly and unexpectedly.

  • You might feel exhausted, numb, remorseful or embarrassed. Or you might feel shame or guilt, worried about how your attempt has affected those around you.
  • You might also feel angry about what has happened and find it hard to see any hope for the future. 
  • Alternatively you might be relieved and glad you have survived but unsure about what happens now.
There are no clear-cut answers but there are several things you can do to get through:
  • Let other people help you where possible.
  • If you live alone, consider asking someone you trust to stay with you until things settle down. Alternatively, you might prefer to stay at their home.
  • Follow the advice of doctors and health professionals and take any medication they have prescribed.
  • Try to establish a routine with sleeping, meals and exercise.
  • Keep appointments with counsellors and doctors.
  • Remove things in and around the house that you could harm yourself with.
  • Keep the use of alcohol and drugs to a minimum and preferably avoid them altogether. They can impair your judgement and make you feel worse.
  • If people are trying to be helpful, acknowledge and respond to them. Although you may still not be in a space to talk in any detail, let them know you will talk more when you feel ready.
  • If people from your support network are not available and you feel worried, unsure or suicidal again, consider calling a helpline or support service.
  • Make a safety plan.

Support for you

Use your support network

Surround yourself with people who you trust, who will listen to you without judgement and who you enjoy being with.

Different people may have different roles. You might have someone who makes you feel safe and loved, and another person who helps to distract you or makes you laugh. Someone from your own culture or background might help connect you with support.

A religious or community leader may help you to connect or reconnect with spiritual beliefs or community activities.

A counsellor can work with you on strategies to recover and cope with tough times. A helpline like 1737 can provide non-judgemental support. 

There is room for a whole range of people in your support network but make sure you identify at least one person you feel that you can talk with about how you are feeling.

Talk to others

You may or may not want to talk about what has happened or what led up to your suicide attempt.

It's common to feel unsure, worried, embarrassed, whakama (ashamed) and even distressed about what to say to others.

When you are ready and if you feel comfortable, talk about what has happened with people you trust. Give them a chance to be there for you and work with you to find a way through.

The first person or people you tell may not be helpful – this can be crushing. Don’t give up. Take a breath, have a rest and try again.

A helpline like 1737 can be a good place to start.

Certain things – like how you were feeling before you harmed yourself or how you harmed yourself – are yours to decide to share if and when and with whom you feel comfortable.

Other things might need to be shared if the information will help keep you safe – for example, whānau may need to know that you may feel suicidal again or try to hurt yourself again so they can help you. For safety reasons, they may also need to know how you may harm yourself. 

 For most people, a short message about what has happened and how you are now coping is enough. It could be something like, “Things have been really tough for me lately and I attempted suicide. I just wanted to let you know what I have been dealing with and I am trying to get back on track.”

Insert info about peer-support groups.

Getting support from a mental health professional

A mental health professional can help to address the feelings or situations that led up to your suicide attempt.  You can talk openly about what has happened and find new ways to cope with difficult decisions, experiences or emotions.

You might find sessions with a mental health professional useful to:
  • sort through how you are feeling and why
  • provide a different perspective
  • link you in with other doctors or experts when necessary
  • help develop new coping strategies.
At the moment, you might not be hopeful that a mental health professional can help you. You might need to try a few counsellors or doctors before you find the right fit. Consider trying one or two sessions and see how you go.

It’s important to find someone who makes you feel heard, works to understand your goals about recovery, and understands and respects your identity.

Look after yourself

Sometimes self-care can sound too small or simple – especially when your feelings are so big and overwhelming. While it’s just one part of your recovery it is an important one. Try some of the suggestions below, every day, for a few weeks and see how you feel. 

Get some sleep, rest and exercise, and eat regularly.
  • If you’re taking prescribed medicine (whether it is for a physical illness or a mental health problem), don’t stop taking it without talking to your doctor first.
  • Take time off work or school if you need to. Your doctor can help arrange this.
  • Keep a diary, or write a letter about how you’re feeling. You don’t have to send the letter. Writing things down can help you understand what you’re thinking or feeling, or how you’re reacting to situations. It can also help you find solutions to any problems you’re facing.
  • Do things you find healing. Go for a massage or mirimiri.
  • Express yourself in whatever way makes sense to you: sing waiata, take photos, dance, or draw.
  • Learn how other people have got through this. Watch videos or read books. It really can help hearing other people talk about how they managed their feelings of wanting to die. 
  • Connect with areas of your life that give you a sense of meaning e.g. your friends, whānau, culture, spirituality, whatever you’re passionate about. Go to places that restore you. Swim in the ocean, go home to your marae, sit in a park under the trees.
  • If you’re disconnected from your cultural identity, find a way to reconnect. If you don’t know where to start, ask someone you trust. For Māori, joining a kapa haka group or starting learning te reo can be good places to start. 
  • Reach out and find people who are like you, or who are going through similar things. If you’re questioning your sexuality or gender, or feeling isolated because of who you are, see below to find someone to talk to.

People supporting you – how to talk to them

Your friends and whānau may not know what to say or how to support you. 

They’re probably worried about saying the wrong thing. Here are some ways you can connect with them and help them to help you:

  • Acknowledge and thank those who make contact, even if you’re not ready to talk. 
  • If you are unsure about what to say, thank them for their concern and let them know you are handling things as best as you can.
  • If you find it comforting to have people with you then tell them that and ask them to stay with you.
  • Consider sharing how you feel and seeking support from those you trust and who care about you.

You get to decide what you’re comfortable sharing or discussing – if someone only wants to talk about your suicide attempt, you can tell them this makes you upset or uncomfortable and tell them what you’d like to talk about instead.

If you can, be clear about what you need: For example:
“What I need is for you to listen to me without telling me what I need to do.” Or
“I’d really appreciate it if we could talk about other things at the moment. I just want to get my mind off it.”

How to use your support network – what other people can do for you, what to ask for

If you have friends, whānau, neighbours, colleagues or other people who want to help you, it can be useful to think about the help you need and what to ask for. This could include:

  • Asking them to attend medical appointments with you and take notes for you to read over later.
  • Asking them to call your school or workplace, share the information you’re comfortable sharing and arrange some time off.
  • Helping you to access cultural support – such as connecting you with a kaumātua or kuia.
  • Looking after your children.
  • Helping with meals or house-cleaning.
  • Support with accessing professional help (e.g. finding a free counsellor).
  • Support with managing finances (e.g. they may be able to help you access support from Work and Income NZ if necessary).
  • Helping you to remember to take your medication.
  • Supporting you to exercise or spend time in nature.
  • Doing things with you that you enjoy and find meaningful.

Returning to work and study

When you’re ready, returning to work or school is a big step toward recovery.

Before returning, it may be useful to talk to your manager, counsellor or teacher about: 
  • flexible days or hours when you first return
  • time-off to attend appointments
  • initial reduced work or study load while you transition back
  • flexible deadlines for work or study tasks
  • identifying who else can support you at work or school.

If you don’t have close relationships with the people you work or study with you may not want to talk about what has happened; you might want to keep your personal and work/school life separate. However, letting someone know what’s happened and that you will need some help creates opportunities to receive additional support. It’s up to you whether this is the right choice for you.

By law, under the Human Rights Act, workplaces and teaching institutions are required to make reasonable adjustments to support people who have been or are unwell.

Before returning to either work or study, you may wish to get advice, or find out about your rights and/or what supports are available from services such as:

Recovery & the future

Now is a good time to think about the connections you have to other people. In the short-term, this could mean:
  • catching up regularly with friends, family and whānau
  • spending time doing things you enjoy
  • trying a new hobby or activity.
In the longer-term, this could mean:
  • thinking about work – do you have the support you need at work? Is your job causing you distress or stress? Do you have alternative options? 
  • considering volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about 
  • thinking about school – do you have the support you need there? Do you know how to access it? 
  • taking a holiday.

Other things to consider are:

  • lifestyle changes – thinking about what you eat and drink and how this affects your mood. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables can help you to feel better. Drinking less alcohol can also have a big impact on how you’re feeling. Exercising is also a great way to move your mood
  • look at what needs to be strengthened in your life to restore balance. Te Whare Tapa Whā is a good place to start
  • meditation and relaxation – making sure relaxation is built into your routine; breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, yoga and tai chi can be good ways to do this
  • interests and contributing – giving back to the community often helps our sense of purpose and connection with others. Think about what you used to find interesting or have been passionate about and join a relevant organisation.

The future

After a suicide attempt it can be hard to see what the future holds. 

It might help to see this time as a turning point; an opportunity for you to find your way back. You will still have ups and downs. However, by focusing on the potential for change following your darkest times, and accepting the assistance of others, you can create opportunities that offer hope and direction for your future.

This online resource was developed by bringing together the wisdom and experiences of people affected by suicide and combining it with what we know to be helpful.

The people involved in the Beyond Blue project, Finding your way back, talked about suicide being a part of their past, but that it was not going to define their future. They wished the same for you, that you can look to the future with a sense of hope and take a step towards the life you want to live.

(Source: Finding your way back - a resource for people how have attempted suicide (adapted to include NZ law and terms) with kind permission from Beyond Blue).