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Surviving a Suicide Attempt Brings Mixed Feelings for Many

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the 2nd leading cause of death among youth in Canada ages 15-34 years. But what about those who survive a suicide attempt?

Over 90% of suicide attempts do not result in death, and these survivors face a unique and complicated set of challenges. The Trauma and Mental Health Report spoke to LivingWorks suicide awareness trainer Colleen Taffe to learn more about life after a suicide attempt. Taffe tells us that the majority of people who survive suicide experience regret regarding their attempt, either instantly or after a period of reflection.

“For many of the survivors I have worked with, the moment they realize what they have done, they have an instant change of heart. Others can get really mad at us for saving them initially, but over time that anger diminishes and is replaced by gratitude.”

two people holding hands

One of the biggest predictors of a suicide attempt is a previous attempt. This tells us that the sense of regret is not, on its own, enough to prevent future suicidal ideation. In fact, this sense of regret can extend beyond remorse for what they did to themselves, to remorse for the impact the attempt had on their loved ones. “They are forever occupied with what that impact did. So much so that if we’re not careful, the weight of that can cause them to go further and want to die even more,” says Taffe.

Feelings of shame can also follow a survived suicide attempt. In cases where an attempt does not result in hospitalization or emergency intervention, the person may decide not to disclose the attempt to family and friends out of fear of guilt and negative judgment. This can further deepen feelings of isolation, ultimately putting them at greater risk for future attempts.

So, how can we help support survivors of suicide and lessen the likelihood of another attempt? Taffe tells us that the best action to take is quite simple: listen and be present.

a group of three friends with their hands on the shoulders of the friend standing in the middle

“It’s so important that folks have time with loved ones. Have normal conversations—not everything needs to be about suicide—but know that your purpose is to spend additional time with that person and just sit in their presence.”

It is a myth that people who are thinking of suicide do not want to talk about it, or that they are fully committed to not living anymore. The same myth applies to people who survive suicide: you may think that their attempt is the last thing they would want to talk about, but this is often far from the truth. Taffe recalls a time when a person was brought into the hospital for a second suicide attempt, and she learned that after this person’s first attempt, nobody wanted to talk about it. While it is reasonable to feel nervous or uneasy about broaching this topic with a loved one, Taffe implores us to fight through that discomfort.

If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, there’s help available. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (US), 1-833-456-4566 (Canada), or your local distress centre for support.

-Hannah Mugford, Contributing Writer

Image Credits:
Feature: – –
 at Unsplash, Creative Commons
First: National Cancer Institute
 at Unsplash, Creative Commons
Second: Rosie Sun 
at Unsplash, Creative Commons