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Supporting someone after a suicide attempt

When someone you care about has attempted suicide, it can be hard to know what to do or say. We're here to help you support them – and yourself.

On this page:

Content warning: this information might be upsetting or difficult to read. We don't include any information about specific methods of suicide.

What to do in an emergency

If someone has attempted suicide, or is about to seriously harm themself, it's an emergency. If it's safe to do so, you should:

  • Call 999 for an ambulance, or take them to A&E
  • Remove anything they could use to harm themselves
  • Stay with them until medical help arrives

Our page how to get help in a crisis has more options.

How you might feel after their suicide attempt

If someone you care about has attempted suicide, you may feel many different emotions. These emotions might change over time.

However you're feeling is ok. There's no right or wrong reaction.

Your feelings might include:

  • Shock, especially if you didn't know they were thinking about suicide. You might have received an unexpected message, or a call from hospital. This shock could make you feel numb, like you're not feeling anything at all.
  • Fear that they may attempt suicide again. Or you might worry about their future.
  • Guilt, if you didn't know they were struggling. Or that you didn't do more to prevent their attempt – it might feel like you've failed them.
  • Shame that someone you care about has attempted suicide. This may be more likely if you grew up in an environment where people believe suicide is sinful. Or it's misunderstood.
  • Anger at them for wanting to take their own life. Or angry at yourself for not having prevented their attempt.
  • Betrayal, if they kept their feelings secret before their attempt.
  • Confusion about why they attempted suicide, especially if there weren't any signs. It might feel like you have a lot of questions that aren't answered.
  • Loss, because you've lost the person as you knew them before their attempt, even if they haven't died. And you might miss the way that things felt before.

You may also experience flashbacks or nightmares after their suicide attempt. Our pages on trauma have more information.

No one's a failure. It's no one's fault. No matter how many signs you might be looking out for, you could miss them or misread them completely.

How to talk about their suicide attempt

You might feel uncomfortable talking about someone's suicide attempt. Or you might feel like you want to fix things and find answers.

You might sometimes get things wrong or say the wrong thing, even if you're trying your best. But your patience and support can make a big difference.

Try these tips to talk about their attempt in a way that helps them.

Don't force them to talk about what happened

After their attempt they might feel unwell. They might struggle to process what they've been through. Try to let them open up about their experiences when they feel ready. And share as much as they're comfortable sharing.

But they may not feel ready to talk about things for some time, possibly ever. If this happens, try not to take offence, or force them to open up. You can still let them know you're thinking of them.

Or they may just want someone nearby who cares about them. You don't have to talk, if that's not what they want. Going to visit and sitting with them can help.

I think people are sometimes just looking for support, where they are just being listened to and not having to explain everything.

Use open questions

If they do feel ready to talk, listen and respond with open questions. These are questions that invite someone to say more than 'yes' or 'no'. For example, "how have you been feeling?" or "what happened next?"

Actively listen

Give them space to talk about things at their own pace. You don't need to understand why they made the attempt, even if you may want to know.

Repeating their own words back to them is a good way to show you've been listening. For example, you could say "I'm hearing that things feel really painful for you at the moment".

It can help to use the same language as the person you're supporting. This shows you're listening. And you're trying understand what happened or how they feel.

I will just go to sit and talk to them, or even see if there's anything they need help with. Because I think it makes such a big difference.

Don't use stigmatising language

There's a lot of stigma associated with suicide. This includes the language some people use to describe it. Try not to use stigmatising language, even if you feel angry or hurt.

For example, some people may describe suicide attempts as selfish, cowardly or attention-seeking. But this is unhelpful and unfair – many people who attempt suicide see it as their only option.

Others might describe a suicide attempt as 'unsuccessful' or 'failed'. Or say someone tried to 'commit' suicide. But these words all imply judgement. So try to avoid them.

Instead you could say they attempted suicide, or tried to take their own life. And you could say they survived their attempt.

It's giving them a safe and non-judgemental space to be able to bring out whatever is going on in their head. And once it's been spoken, it might not feel so scary to them because they've been able to share it.

Tips to help them cope

These are some tips for how you can help, and what to avoid. But remember that everyone is different, so try to be guided by what they need – even if this changes over time.

Offer practical support

There may be practical things you can do to help. For example, you could offer to attend a follow-up appointment with them. Or you could help them keep their environment safe, if they agree.

You could show them our page on coping after a suicide attempt, which has some tips they might find useful. 

And they might want support with other things, such as housework or childcare. Ask what would be most helpful for them.

Don't treat them differently

You can invite them to occasions and events that you normally would. This can help them feel involved, and show that you've not changed how you treat them.

But try not to be disheartened if they're not up for socialising or doing things they used to enjoy.

If they don't feel up to larger events, you could suggest something that feels more achievable. For example, going out for a walk or to a café.

If someone is struggling they might come across a bit mean or not want to talk. And I think it's quite easy to be like, well, I tried. It's important to keep trying.

Help them set clear boundaries

Some people will want a lot of support after a suicide attempt. But others might want some space for a while.

It can help if you both set boundaries for your relationship, and what you expect from each other. This can help manage difficult feelings and situations.

It may also help to agree how you'll speak to each other, and what you're able to support them with.

Help them create a safety plan

A safety plan can help someone stay safe if they feel suicidal again. It can explain how they might feel and behave if they're distressed or suicidal. And it can tell you how to help if they feel suicidal again.

They might complete a safety plan themselves, or with their healthcare professionals. Or they might involve you to help them develop a plan.

A safety plan could include:

  • How to recognise their warning signs
  • Coping strategies they've found useful in the past
  • Ways to make their environment safe
  • Names and contact details of people they trust
  • Names and contact details of professionals who can support them
  • Details of helplines and listening services
  • Details of a safe place they can go for support

Samaritans has more information on safety plans. That includes an example plan you can download.  

How can I tell if they might attempt suicide again?

If someone you know has attempted suicide, you might worry about it happening again. 

These are some emotions and behaviours that someone might show:

  • Talking or writing about dying or suicide
  • Appearing to feel helpless or worthless
  • Sudden changes in behaviour, mood, or routines
  • Talking about revenge, guilt or shame, or about being a burden to others
  • Being more withdrawn and wanting to be left alone
  • Giving belongings away, or making life arrangements such as a will
  • Risky behaviour, such as taking drugs, drinking more alcohol, or reckless driving
  • Saying goodbye to others as if it's the last time
  • Appearing calmer than usual after a period of depression

But remember that everyone is different. Some people might show signs that we haven't listed here. Or they might hide how they're feeling, and not show any signs at all. Other people might act in these ways, but not feel suicidal.

You may feel like you can't ask them if they feel suicidal. Or if they're planning another attempt. But research shows that asking them about suicidal feelings could help. Simple, direct questions can encourage them to be honest about how they are feeling.

Understanding how someone else is feeling can be difficult. It's important not to blame yourself if you aren't able to spot signs that they're feeling suicidal.

Bringing up the topic of suicide if they're starting to feel suicidal, it takes the stigma out of it and gives them the opportunity to be able to speak openly and freely to you.  

What might happen if they go to hospital?

Some people who attempt suicide will need treatment in hospital.

If they need emergency medical treatment to save their life, this should be the priority. Then they might need to stay in hospital for tests and treatment if they have physical injuries. Or other physical health concerns.

They should also be seen by a professional who can assess their mental health. Some A&E departments have a specialist psychiatry team.

This team might:

  • Make an initial assessment (sometimes called a psychiatric evaluation or psychosocial assessment)
  • Help keep them safe in the short-term
  • Prescribe medication
  • Put them in contact with other support services, such as their local crisis team (CRHT)
  • Decide if they can go home, or if they need to be admitted to hospital

The hospital should keep you informed about their care, if they consent to this.

Will they be sectioned?

It's a possibility. But many people who attempt suicide don't get sectioned. 

Mental health professionals could agree to section someone if they think it's in the person's best interests. This means making the person stay in hospital, even if they don't want to be there.

See our pages on sectioning and nearest relatives to learn more.

What might happen when they leave hospital?

Before discharging them, the hospital staff should discuss and plan follow-up care. Staff might work with them to make a safety plan. This can include assessing any risks, and who to contact if they need support.

They should give you some information to help explain what's happened.  This might include guidance on coping when supporting someone else. And information about services that could help. This could be local peer support groups, online forums, and charities.

Hospital staff should encourage you to be involved in the person's care – if the person agrees.

You might worry about their safety one they leave hospital. This includes if they don't have somewhere safe to go once they leave. For example, if they're homeless or may experiencing abuse. 

You can mention these concerns to hospital staff managing their care. You can also talk to hospital staff if you're worried about how much care you can provide. 

What care might they get at home?

After leaving hospital, they should receive follow-up care within 48 hours. This is to assess their risk of self-harm or suicide attempts. And to see what other help and support they might need.

They should get this care from their mental health team or their GP. Or from the hospital staff who carried out their follow-up care plan.

The thought of going home from hospital can be overwhelming and scary for them. It may be a worrying experience for you too.

What if I'm unhappy with their care?

There are best practice guidelines for treating someone who has attempted suicide. These guidelines are set by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). And all healthcare professionals should follow them.

But you may feel like the person you care about had a different experience, including a negative one.

You might also feel like you haven't been well supported. Or that their experience in hospital was not what you might expect. This can be hard, at an already difficult time.

Our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem have advice on what to do about poor care. This includes information about how to make a complaint.

Looking after yourself

The period after a loved one's suicide attempt can be distressing and confusing. This could affect your mental health.

Looking after yourself might feel impossible. Especially when you're spending a lot of time focused on someone else. But if you feel able to try, these tips could help.

Talk to someone you trust

Opening up to someone you trust can help you feel listened to and supported. It could be a friend, partner or family member. Or you could call a helpline or listening service, such as Mind's infoline or Samaritans.

Sometimes acknowledging your feelings by saying them out loud can help. You don't have to share any personal details about the person you're supporting.

Take care of the basics

Try not to put pressure on yourself to do too much. Prioritise the most important things you need to do.

For example:

  • Eating and drinking regularly
  • Taking care of your basic hygiene
  • Getting some fresh air each day
  • Getting good quality sleep

If you're struggling with these things, it might feel harder to look after the person you care about.

It's really really hard to actually look after yourself when you almost feel like you've got that person’s life in your hands.  

Take a step back if you need to

It can be difficult to focus your energy on supporting someone else. This can feel even harder when you're dealing with strong, conflicting emotions yourself.

It's ok to wonder whether you're the best person to support them right now. It doesn't mean that you don't care. But it might mean you need a break. Taking some time away for yourself could help you support them better in the future.

Find out if you can get financial support as a carer

If you provide unpaid support or care for someone, you are a carer. This could be helping someone with illness, disability, mental health or addiction.

You might not feel like a carer. Or you might think that you don't help much. But if you spend time supporting someone else, you may be able to get practical and financial help.

Our page about caring for someone with mental health problems has more information.

Get professional support

If you're struggling with how you feel, you could seek help. It's always ok to ask for support. It doesn't have to be for a specific mental health problem.

We have information about seeking help for a mental health problem. This includes where to start with getting help, and how to talk to your GP about your mental health.

Organisations who can help

These are some organisations who may be able to help.

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)

0800 58 58 58
thecalmzone.net
Provides listening services, information and support for anyone who needs to talk, including a web chat.

Maytree Suicide Respite Centre

020 7263 7070
maytree.org.uk
Offers free respite stays for people in suicidal crisis.

The Mix

85258 (crisis messenger service, text THEMIX)
themix.org.uk
Support and advice for under 25s, including a crisis messenger service, email and webchat.

National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK

0800 689 5652
spuk.org.uk/national-suicide-prevention-helpline-uk/
Helpline offering a supportive listening service to anyone with thoughts of suicide. Open from 6pm to midnight every day. If you are unable to connect to the main number above you can call 0800 689 0880

Papyrus HOPELINEUK

0800 068 41 41
07860039967 (text)
[email protected]
papyrus-uk.org
Confidential support for under-35s at risk of suicide and others who are concerned about them. Open 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Samaritans

116 123 (freephone)
[email protected]
Freepost SAMARITANS LETTERS
samaritans.org

Samaritans are open 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk. You can visit some Samaritans branches in person. Samaritans also have a Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7pm–11pm every day).

Sane

0300 304 7000
sane.org.uk
Offers emotional support and information for anyone affected by mental health problems, including a helpline. 

Shout

85258 (text SHOUT)
giveusashout.org
Confidential 24/7 text service offering support if you're in crisis and need immediate help.

Stay Alive

prevent-suicide.org.uk
App with help and resources for people who feel suicidal or are supporting someone else.

Switchboard

0800 0119 100
hello@switchboard/lgbt
switchboard.lgbt
Listening services, information and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Togetherall

togetherall.com
Online mental health community (formerly called Big White Wall). Free in some areas through your GP, employer or university.

This information was published in March 2024. We will revise it in 2027.

References and bibliography available on request.

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