First Month for Loved Ones

The First Month After a Loved Ones Suicide Attempt

What to Expect

  • Your relationship with yourself and everyone will change. It may get stronger. It may disappear, but everything will change. This is not a bad thing but you need to know to expect it.
  • People who said they would be there may not be. The reality and severity of what has occurred will start to settle in and the people who can’t handle it will walk away.
  • You may want to discount your own fears about the suicide attempt or others fears. The fears surrounding this will not just immediately go away, even if you say they will, or you want them to. Do not discount or dismiss your fears, or anyone else’s.
  • You may have family and friends who remain very loyal to you but are angry and say very hurtful things about the suicide attempter. This may make you very angry or may make you “switch sides” and stand up for the suicide attempter, even when you don’t want to.
  • Extreme amounts of stress. You are trying to figure out what your new normal is. You may be trying to decide what responsibilities your loved one is capable of. Keep as much of your routine and the normalcy of your life from before the suicide attempt. This is not only healthy for you but everyone in your home.
  • Everyone affected by the suicide attempt will act differently and handle their emotions and the stress differently. There is no right or wrong way to deal with this.
  • Symptoms of PTSD.
  • You may wake with nightmares multiple times a night.
  • You may not be able to cry, or you may not be able to stop crying.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Inability to concentrate or remember simple math or the spelling of simple words.
  • The suicide attempter may express a desire to have a pet, such as a cat or dog. This can be a very good idea. Research has shown pets give people a reason to get up and go for walks. Pets also have been shown to reduce stress and give love. You should keep an open mind about this. Initially you may think the attempter can’t even take care of themselves, and this may, or may not, be true. This needs to be handled case by case. I do not advocate for any person to be allowed to adopt an animal if they are unwilling to get out of bed, bathe, eat, or have a job and a way to financially support an animal. Please use common sense and consult with the attempters’ therapists and doctors on their opinion regarding this issue.
  • You may face a lot of anger from people who have lost a loved one to suicide. They may say hurtful things to you out of their own pain and loss. Hearing these things can be very hurtful and angering. If this happens know you are not alone. This has been a very common occurrence for loved ones looking for resources after a suicide attempt.
  • You may still be dealing with police and the first responders to your loved ones suicide attempt. They may be continuing to ask questions to finish filing reports. You may have to answer questions, face accusations, talk to your insurance providers, and be dealing with professional cleaning companies to clean up the mess created by the suicide attempt in your home, or vehicle. You may be visiting the local police station to try to reclaim your loved ones personal belongings they had on them during the attempt.
  • Your loved one may be hospitalized, either voluntarily, or involuntarily. If they live in a state that suicide is illegal they may be facing court hearings and legal issues. They may be locked in a state hospital where the head of the hospital may threaten you or your loved one. This is a difficult thing to have to face and must be handled on a case by case basis. You may be told you have to back off from asking questions and advocating for your loved one and their care or “your loved one will be over medicated to the point they will sit in a wheel chair and drool the rest of their life.” You may have a lot of court battles on your hands after such a threat, or you may feel if you allow poor care of your loved one and keep your mouth shut they will be released to your care sooner. There are a lot of great stories of recovery and wonderful doctors. There are also some horror stories. I include this information because, if your loved one is receiving poor care and you are being threatened, you are not alone.
    • If your loved one is hospitalized make sure they would like to see you before visiting. Some people need some time and space away from the people and the life they had. This space can be healthy, necessary, and healing for everyone affected.
    • Find out if there is anything your loved one would like to have brought to them: favorite clothes, a book, underwear, pajamas, socks, or food.
    • Do not re-arrange your whole life around visiting hours. This will just create more disease in your own life. If you neglect your own health thinking it is helping to heal someone else you may be wrong.
    • Make a list in your notebook to ask doctors and staff about the care and prognosis of your loved one. Leave room for their answers in your notebook.
    • Record all the names of professionals assisting to your loved one so you know who to seek help from in the future.
What You Need To Do
  • Buckle your seat belt. Double check everything while you drive. It is common for people affected by a suicide attempt to be in a car accident.
  • Turn off your phone while driving. You do not need to receive a phone call from anyone while you are driving, especially a crisis call from the attempter or from their providers.
  • Figure out who you can rely on for support, encouragement, a listening ear, or friendship.
  • You need to set boundaries. Decide what you are able to do. It is not your job to fix the suicide attempter or their life. It is not necessary for you to be at every visiting hour. Some people who did attend every visiting hour paid the toll by losing income, sleep, and time to eat or perform self-care. You must put yourself first or everything in your life will fall into more and smaller pieces.
  • Ask for help. If you have willing support allow them to mow your lawn, run some errands, grocery shop for you. Allow your support system to support you.
  • Set up a regular exercise routine. Exercise can be a walk around the block, stretching, or a full out tennis match or long distance run. You will know what you need. Set a goal to do some form of exercise every day.
  • Set up a daily meditation time. Meditation does not mean sitting in a dark room with a mantra. It can be a special rock by the river, it can be in your closet, or it can be doing a rote task like folding laundry. However you chose to meditate, it must be with all of your phones turned off, the radios turned off and the televisions turned off. You must set aside a minimum of 30 minutes where you will not receive crisis phone calls from anyone. This simple boundary will allow your body and mind to work better.
  • Be honest. Be patient and accept whatever thoughts and feelings come to you. Ignoring them, or fighting against them, will only make your life harder in the long run.
  • Sleep. Rest is a major necessity for you. You have to take your life and your priorities back down to the basics for a while.
  • Eat well. Your body is in survival mode. Give it all the advantages you can so it can work at its’ best for you through this crisis.
  • You need to write a safety plan for you. Most people affected by a loved ones’ suicide attempt, despite their anger and outrage at the act, eventually battle with thoughts of suicide themselves. This battle can be a sudden flash of a thought, or a week or two of non-stop overwhelming contemplations of how they would kill themselves.
  • If you will continue to be a part of the suicide survivors’ life you need to take a part in writing a safety plan for them. Know what the safety plan is and know whom else they have to rely on if they are in crisis.
  • Don’t give up. Most people are deeply affected by a suicide attempt for about two years. You will eventually start to feel better. Just knowing that is powerful information and hope. Be kind to yourself and know your limits.
  • Continue to go to therapy appointments for you. This is paramount. It helps you set boundaries, process grief and fear, and someone is then keeping a pulse on how you are doing.
  • If you haven’t found a therapist you work well with keep looking. Not all therapists are right for all people but there will be one that will be healthy and work well for you. Don’t give up.
  • Find 6 – 10 people you can count on. It is important you have that many. Most people pick one person because they don’t want to rely on, or burden, more than that. The problem with this thinking is the one person will get burned out. This is too big for just one person to handle. The larger safety net you weave around yourself the easier it will be and the healthier you will be.
  • You need to check in with, and advocate on behalf of, the children affected by the suicide attempt. Children are easily over looked during this process. Sometimes because of your own grief and necessity to keep everyone functioning, sometimes because children may internalize and not want to bother the adults dealing with the crisis. If there are children who are affected schedule therapy appointments for them now. You will not have the answers or the ability to support them on your own. They need the help of a professional as well.
  • Ask the attempters’ doctor what they believe the attempter is capable of. You may think they can drive themselves to and from appointments right now, but maybe they are not supposed to drive at all. They may tell you they can’t drive or take care of themselves, when in fact they can. Make sure they are capable of handling their own finances, returning to school, participating in sports, returning to work, taking care of pets or children etc. Do not assume they are incapable or capable of anything. Ask a professional.
  • Make a list in your notebook to ask doctors and staff about the care and prognosis of your loved one. Leave room for their answers in your notebook. This will allow you to refer back to the facts.
  • Record all the names of professionals attending to your loved one so you know who to seek help from in the future. Make sure you include a phone number they can be reached at.

What You Can Do For The Suicide Attempter

  • Accept who they are and where they are in their life. Until you are able to do this you will be thinking you are at a starting point you are not even close to.
  • Ask what responsibilities they would like to have and what they feel they can handle. Revisit this subject every few months as the answers can change dramatically. Some suicide attempters were very upset at being treated like a child and it harmed their self-esteem even further. Some were upset at being given too much responsibility and it made them feel overwhelmed.
  • If your loved one needs help writing or setting up a safety plan offer your assistance. There is a template of one available for download in the download section of this website. A safety plan should include a list of medications (including dosage, how and when it should be taken) all contact information for doctors, hospitals, therapists, psychiatrists, family members, and friends who are able to help when needed. It should also include other tools the attempter knows help when they become anxious, depressed, or suicidal. Some ideas of tools are: taking a nap, going for a walk, talking, journaling, writing a song, meditating, working out, art work, music, or running.
  • Assist in writing a Daily List of things they would like to accomplish. For extremely mentally ill people there may be days these are the only things they accomplish. If there are days the list is all they accomplish it will allow them to see what they have done and give them some self-respect and hope. This check list also dispels the downwards spiral the thought, “I haven’t done anything today” creates. There should be no more than ten items on this list. These items should be healthy. They may be things you have taken for granted as stuff that should just be done every day without thought, until now. These lists can be done once a week for the week ahead to include changing schedule items such as therapy appointments or family events. Or it can be created and never change. There is a template of Daily List in the downloadable section of this website. Ideas for this list include: Get out of bed. Make the bed. Go for a walk. Stretch. Take a bath or shower. Eat breakfast. Eat lunch. Empty the dishwasher. Feed and water pets. Write three things I am grateful for. Write three things I really like about myself. Brush and floss my teeth. Drink a large glass of water. Take my medication as prescribed.
  • Help set personal goals and family goals. Sometimes depression has been triggered by having nothing to look forward to. Having positive healthy things to look forward to is a wonderful thing to add to your life. Examples of this are: Planning a trip or visit with a friend. Going to a concert. Taking a class. Earning a degree. Owning a pet. Buying a new vehicle. Volunteering for a cause. Planning for things is sometimes just as powerful as the event itself. It builds excitement and momentum in life.

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