4 Things Suicide Attempt Survivors Want You to Know

They are your neighbour, your family member, colleague or your friend.

They are one of thousands of Canadians affected by suicide every single day.

They are courageous, brave, and strong.

They are suicide attempt survivors — and they have something they want you to know.

How to Support a Suicide Attempt Survivor

Supporting a suicide attempt survivor can be scary. When you know that someone has been pushed to the edge before, you might wonder what’s stopping him or her from doing it again. The truth is, your support can play a role in steering attempt survivors down the road to healing and keeping them on the right track.

The first thing you need to remember is that these survivors have fought their way back through the darkness and, in this moment, are making the choice to live. Honour that choice by acknowledging that they want to be here and realize that what they’re doing by talking about it, is finally giving themselves permission to ask for help.

If you know someone who is at risk of suicide and you’re looking for ways to offer support, here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

4 Things Suicide Attempt Survivors Want You to Know

Talk openly about suicide.

Suicide is NOT a bad word. It’s not gross. It’s not shameful. It is something that happens, and if you’re talking to a suicide attempt survivor, it’s something that happened to them.

The importance of talking openly about suicide is vital in supporting suicide attempt survivors. Providing an honest, and welcoming space where suicide isn’t considered taboo is necessary in order for attempt survivors to comfortably share their feelings and experience. As one survivor of suicide reveals in an article on Everyday Feminism: “When we don’t have healthy, compassionate conversations about suicide and survival, we ultimately discourage survivors from seeking out support.”

Be patient.

According to former CASP board member Yvonne Bergmans, one of the most important things to remember when supporting a suicide attempt survivor is patience. Suicide attempt survivors may need different things at different times. They might want to be surrounded by people one day, yet choose to spend the next in total isolation.

It sounds confusing, and remember that they are doing the best they know how to in that very moment, and remind yourself that in the life of a suicide attempt survivor, living moment to moment is a pretty big deal. Respect their decisions and check-in frequently to see if they could use a friend. Also keep an eye out for the warning signs for those at risk of suicide.

Listen to what they’re saying.

Don’t feel as if you have to dissect the reason behind an attempt (that’s where professional help comes in), or offer solutions. According to one suicide attempt survivor who shared her story onLiveThroughThis.org, during her most trying times a lot of people would say things like, “What do you have to be depressed about?” to which she responds that depression doesn’t need a reason — it just is.

Accept that you may not fully grasp what’s going on inside the head of a suicide attempt survivor, and accept that that’s okay. You don’t have to understand, you just have to be there if and when they choose to open up about their experience. At that point, be sure to listen to what they’re saying and tune in as they’re telling their story.

Shut down the Stigma.

One of the biggest challenges faced by suicide attempt survivors is the stigma they have to face on their way to find help. Telling someone you attempted suicide is hard enough. Hearing that it was selfish to try in the first place certainly doesn’t make it easier to open up.

Survivors of suicide attempts need compassion, not judgment. They need support as they navigate their way through the abyss of stigma, shame, guilt and stereotypes that surrounds suicide. The suicide attempt survivor from Everyday Feminism wants everyone to understand that the decision to end one’s life is not one that is taken lightly and is “not indicative of a character flaw, rather of immense pain that we have carried for too long.”

Hear From Suicide Attempt Survivors

So, what is the message that suicide attempt survivors need to hear?

“You are worth life. You are worth living. You are worth breathing. You are worth having children. You are worth going to college. You are worth telling jokes. You are worth writing poems. You are worth your life.” You have a right to live.

Hear more about life after a suicide attempt from four suicide survivors featured in this great videopublished by the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and how YOU can support their journey on the road to wellness.

Message of Hope from CASP Chair and Suicide Attempt Survivor

Eleven. That’s the number of Canadians who will choose to end their lives by suicide by the end of the day.

Two-hundred. That’s about the number of Canadians who will attempt suicide, but who will thankfully survive, by the end of today.

Two. That’s the number of times I’ve survived a suicide attempt in the short 30 years I’ve been on this planet (and coincidently CASP celebrated its 30th year in operation last year – how we’ve grown on two separate but similar paths!)

Many people believe that the act of suicide is selfish, cowardly on part of the individual, or embarrassing for friends and family. But as a survivor, I can say with confidence that it isn’t a choice that comes easily. I would even argue that it isn’t a choice whatsoever, but rather a desperate act during the deepest and darkest period of a battle with mental illness. For me, it was an attempt to end the emotional pain inflicted by my illness. I was sick, and I was unable to see any alternative or improvement to my bleak and seemingly hopeless situation.

If you think about the fact that one in five people suffer from a mental health problem, and 90% of all suicidal people have a mental health problem, you’re likely to know someone who has either died by suicide, or has seriously contemplated it. The importance of educating people of where and how to seek help cannot be stressed enough. If I knew there was a distress line in my community, I may have picked up the phone and called someone. If I knew there was such a thing as a ‘safety plan’, I might have used this as a tool to avoid self-harm. But at the time, I just thought I was a failure as a daughter, as a friend, and in life. We need to let Canadians know that their lives are valued, and that there is hope and support in our communities.

As an Executive Board Member to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, I am humbled to be able to represent a voice for survivors of suicide attempt – and proud of CASP for recognizing the importance of having ‘our’ voice at the table. Attempt survivors are some of the strongest – yet misunderstood – people in society. CASP believes that we have an invaluable amount of knowledge and passion to advance suicide prevention efforts in Canada, which I see as a big step from even five years ago!

Through the tireless efforts of suicide prevention advocates and survivors across Canada (includingMark Henick, Alicia Rumundo, and Orlando Da Silva), we are moving towards a country filled with greater understanding, awareness and acceptance of those who experience suicidality.

As we enter the New Year, I invite each of you to join us at CASP, and look for ways to get involved in this growing community of survivors, friends and family. The best part? Taking action is easy. Consider the following:

Zero. That is the number of deaths by suicide I hope to see in my lifetime, so reach out and let’s get started.

With strength & warmth,

Meg Schellenberg
Chair, Survivor of Suicide Attempt