If You are a Friend
If you are a friend of someone who had a loved one attempt suicide there are healthy ways to support your friend.
What To Expect
Changes. You have looked for, and found, this resource because things have already changed. You may not be sure why they have. If you are a friend of a loved one who has attempted suicide there are some things you need to know and there are effective ways to support your friend.
- You may think that because the attempter survived that everything should be fine and be just like it has been. It won’t be. Your friend is caught trying to support their loved one and get back to a healthy life, while at the same time is in shock, and may be afraid of another attempt.
- Your friend may be alienating their support system and isolating them self. This may happen because of fear of judgment, lack of time and energy, fear of another attempt, and not knowing what to say or feel.
- Your friend may need to talk all the time about the attempt; about their feelings, fears, anger, grief, shock and resentment surrounding the attempt. LISTEN. You do not need to agree, to fix, to help, to work, to solve. One of the things your friend needs is a sounding board and a listening ear. They may say things that contradict each other. They may say things that don’t make sense. Just listen.
- Symptoms of grief. This one is usually hard for friends of loved ones to understand. How can your friend be grieving when no one died? They are grieving the life they had and the safety and relationship they had. They are grieving for their loved one and for everyone affected.
- Why? Expect the question to be raised, and raised again. This is not a question that will ever be logically answered but it will be asked a bunch. Do not try to answer this question. If you come up with reasons that further victimize your friend it will damage your relationship. If you come up with reasons the attempter wanted to die it will call in your friends’ loyalty to the attempter. Listen to this question but help to answer the questions: “What can we do now?” “How can we help?” “What do you need?” “What does the attempter need?”
- Work to understand the full impact of the situation. The emotional impact of possibly losing someone you love and not being able to help them while still fearing that loss can be debilitating.
- Expect a lot of anger.
- Your friend may look like everything is going well. They show up for work, they don’t break down at all. They are showered, fed and have clean clothes. This does not mean that they are just fine. It means they have a public persona they have created to cope possibly when they are all alone they are very broken.
- Your friend may engage in very damaging behavior; they may use retail therapy and spend money like crazy, they may drive to fast, drink to much, do drugs, have risky sexual behavior, and eating disorders may erupt.
- Be kind.
- Ask what you can do, follow through with action. Don’t ask what you can do and then not do anything.
Things you can do to support your friend
- Listen and be kind.
- Do not pretend the suicide attempt did not happen.
- Offer help – child care, an afternoon or evening alone or with you, a car wash or lawn mowing, or a hot dinner. Drop by and care for pets. Set a day you will pick up their kids from school, keep them through dinner, and possibly help with their homework.
- Check in often by sending a text, email, or voice mail; say things like, “Just checking in on you and thinking of you.” “Sending you all of my best.” Do not ask for details. Do not expect return phone calls or texts. Do not get offended if you don’t get anything in return for a while. Relationships ebb and flow and this is a time where your friend may not have anything to give yet needs a lot. Leave voice messages to say “I care about you.”
- Let the person express what he or she is going through without censoring or judging what you hear.
- Drop a note in the mail.
- Offer to be the main contact person. Volunteer to call and email close friends or relatives with pertinent updates to the physical and emotional well-being of all loved ones involved. Schedule visits, meals, child and pet care, etc. There is no “right” person for this job. A great person is a willing person who is able to communicate honestly with everyone involved.
- Show up. Help out with chores, errands, kids, cleaning, etc.
- Be specific: Set a day and time. Say, “I will meet you Thursday at 1:00 for lunch.”
- Accept. Don’t judge. This is a hard spot for everyone to be in. If you want your friendship to survive you need to just accept where your friend is and meet them there.
For more information on helping a grieving friend go here.