According to the American Psychological Association, suicide rates between 1999 and 2017 increased by 33%. From 10.5 to 14 people in 100,000 people. A sharp increase was noted after 2006.
Suicide is ranked as the second leading cause of death in people aged between 10 and 34 years and the fourth leading cause of death in people aged between 35 and 54 years. It is the 10th leading cause of death overall.
While these are statistics relating to what we could call successful suicides, there is a direct link between these and attempted suicides.
The reasons behind them are the same
The Forgotten Helpers
While there is a lot of help and support available for people who have made suicidal attempts, there is one group of people we tend to forget. The friends and families of people who attempt it. They could easily fade into the shadows and go unnoticed.
They are left to deal with a lot of pain and a host of negative emotions. What is worse is that they may not even give their own suffering a thought because they are so busy taking care of the attempter.
The most common scenario is one in which the attempter tries to take his life and a friend or close family member finds them in the nick of time. They rush them to hospital where they receive emergency care and their life is saved.
For better description let’s call the attempter Jay and his wife Francine. Francine finds Jay lying seemingly lifeless on the bathroom floor, rushes him to hospital and is by his side for several days as he gets treatment. All this time she is on some kind of adrenaline high where she doesn’t have a chance to internalize everything.
It is when they get home that it all dawns on her. At this point she could experience many different emotions all at once. She has an extremely difficult time dealing with them all, while still trying to care for her husband.
Effects of Suicidal Attempts on Families
These are some of the emotions she may be dealing with. All of them absolutely normal.
Shock and disbelief
Many people whose loved ones have attempted suicide admit that until it comes close to them, it always seems like a distant concept. Something that happens to other people. When the idea that someone you care about, someone you know so well could make an attempt at their own life hits the family, it is traumatizing.
This is a very common feeling towards a loved one who attempts suicide. You are angry at them for trying to harm someone you love. You are angry at them for hurting you. ‘How could you do this to me?’ is a common question from loved ones.
If the attempter is a minor, their parent may be angry at them because they should have known better. One father whose daughter attempted suicide said “I was so angry at her, I wanted to kill her myself.”
Loved ones feel guilty because they can’t shake off the feeling that there is something they could have done to prevent the attempt. They should have been more attentive to pick up on some warning signs. A parent may feel that perhaps if they spent more time with their child things would have turned out different.
A different kind of guilt could come up especially in the case of repeated attempts. If a spouse for instance has had to endure multiple suicide attempts by their better half, they may also be experiencing feelings of intense emotional fatigue.
In a moment of frustration they may want to scream “Then why don’t you just do it already?” This feeling is followed by a sinking wave of guilt for even thinking such a thing.
If any of your loved ones has attempted suicide before, you live in fear that they will try again. The real fear is in the thought that they will try again… and succeed. If it has happened once and your loved one got all the necessary physical and emotional support and treatment, you can reasonably rest assured that they will not do it again.
However, there are individuals who have attempted suicide multiple times. Each time receiving the best care available but falling back into it again and again. It is in these situations that family members live in most fear.
Studies show that people who have attempted suicide once are likely to try again in the first 3 months to 1 year after the first attempt.
Why would family members experience feelings of grief if the person survived the attempt? They are alive, maybe not well yet but they are alive. The answer can be somewhat twisted. If a close family member has attempted suicide multiple times, the thought that they will try again just won’t get out of your head.
Your mind may start to make some kind of self-protective, preparatory measures where you subconsciously ready yourself for the day your loved one succeeds. You grieve at the thought that that day could come today, tomorrow, next week… any time.
Temporary loss of faith
Even people who have always had very strong religious beliefs have admitted to this. If you are staunch Christian for instance, a suicide attempt by a family member may lead you to question your faith. You may spend a couple of months asking God how he could let a thing like this happen to your loved one.
The stigma against people who have attempted suicide and their families is real. Suicide is still a taboo topic in many communities. Many people don’t understand it. Anyone who has attempted it is perceived as ‘abnormal.’
Family members go through stigma too. “There goes the woman whose son tried to kill himself” are some of the unpleasant tags family members have told about. Even if the attempter never gets to know about it, it is something the family has to deal with.
How to Cope With These Feelings
Seek help for yourself. There is nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed with emotions surrounding a suicide attempt by a close family member. If you feel the need for professional help and support, seek it immediately. It is imperative that you remain well and stable to be able to continue supporting your loved one through their healing.
Don’t blame them. The last thing you should do is blame them for what they did. This only serves to drive them back into the hole of hopelessness they were in when they tried to take their own life.
Suicide rates in America have increased over the years. It is now a leading cause of death in the country. Even as we make desperate attempts to deal with the causes and provide support to suicide survivors, there is need to provide guidance to their support systems as well. Their immediate family members bear a huge burden in the healing journey.
Remember that every human being has an innate need or desire to survive. When an individual gets to a point where they truly believe that death is the best option, they are in an unfathomably deep hole of hopelessness. They are not in control. The best gift you could give them is love and support.