When you first find out someone you know has tried to take their own life, you might feel lots of different things. Shock, grief, hurt, anger, guilt and even numbness – however you’re feeling is okay.
If you’re close to the person and are one of their main support people, make sure you have people around you who can help you get through. Caring for someone else while they’re going through something so painful can be difficult – you need support and aroha too.
For a while, life will be different. It’s normal to feel fearful, ashamed or confused. With time and the right support you will both get through this.
Unfortunately, recovery from a suicide attempt can be both physically and mentally challenging. The person you’re supporting may still be experiencing suicidal distress. Find out how to help them through this here.
If you are recovering from your own suicide attempt, we have information for you here.
Here’s how you can help:
Immediately after a suicide attempt:
- Call your local mental health crisis assessment team or go with them to the emergency department (ED) at your nearest hospital.
- If they are an immediate physical danger to themselves or others, call 111.
- Stay with them until support arrives.
- Remove any obvious means of suicide they might use (e.g. guns, medication, car keys, knives, rope).
- Try to stay calm and let them know you care.
- Keep them talking: listen and ask questions without judging.
- Make sure you are safe.
Remember to take care of yourself when you are caring for others:
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating properly and exercising.
- Be kind to yourself and take time out when you need to. This can be very difficult – remember you can’t do everything.
- Connect in with or build your support system – this might involve talking to your kaumatua or kuia, a spiritual leader, a counsellor or trusted friends and whānau.
Build a support network
It’s important to involve others to help you and the person you're supporting – don't try to do everything yourself.
- Ask the person you're supporting to tell you what they need, what works for them and who should be involved. Make sure you listen to their needs but be clear that you can’t be the only person supporting them – they need to choose three to five other people to join the support team.
- Your support network might include kaumatua or kuia, cultural elders, religious leaders or community groups, as well as friends, family and whānau. It might include people who have been through something similar to the person you're supporting, and can share how they got through it.
- Bring the group together in a safe space.
- Talk openly and honestly about the situation.
- Talk to the person you’re supporting about what they will do if they feel suicidal again, how they plan to keep safe, and how others can help with this.
- Develop a plan together to support the person – identify how different people can help. Get professional help if you need it. Talk to your local doctor, medical centre, community mental health team or counselling service.
When someone you know tries to take their own life, most people want to know why.
Firstly, it’s important to understand they may not know why, or even if, they wanted to end their own life. They might feel confused at first.
Some of the reasons people have given for attempting suicide have included:
- The situation was so unbearable, I couldn’t think of an alternative.
- I felt trapped. There was no other way I could get away.
- I was just so agitated and completely on the edge all the time, I needed to do something.
- I felt overwhelmed and out of control.
- I needed to get help and let others know how desperate I felt.
- I felt like a failure and a burden. I just wanted to make it easier for those around me.
- I don’t know why I did it.
Although it might become clearer as time goes on, you may never truly understand what led to them trying to take their own life. They may not want you to know or they may never be able to explain it. They may be okay with talking to you or someone else about it or they may want to keep it private. While it’s understandable to look for answers, it’s not helpful for this to be your main focus.
What not to do:
- Don’t talk use words like “unsuccessful” or “failed” when talking about someone’s suicide attempt. This language is very unhelpful. Instead, just use “suicide attempt” or “attempted to take their own life.”
- Don’t ask about how they harmed themselves unless it’s necessary for you to know to keep them safe. If you don’t know them well or aren’t part of their core support network, you don’t need to know what method they used. Talking about methods of suicide and attempted suicide can be extremely distressing and triggering – for you and for the other person.
- Try not to make them feel guilty or blamed (don’t say “how could you do this to me?”)
- Don’t give up on them – hold onto hope for them until they can hold it with you