It can be upsetting to learn that a friend or family member has attempted suicide. Often after a serious suicide attempt, those who are close to the person experience their own increased anxiety. Here are some points on how to take care of yourself and your friend or family member following a suicide attempt.
Understanding the Emergency Response
When someone is admitted to an emergency department and/or a psychiatric facility following a suicide attempt, a doctor and other medical personnel will evaluate the person’s physical and mental health. They will look for any contributing factors such as medication side effects, use of drugs or alcohol, and/or untreated medical or mental health conditions. After the person’s physical health is deemed to be stable, a mental health assessment is usually performed. The evaluator will be gathering information about any previous psychiatric conditions, treatments, and past suicidal thoughts and/or attempts. They will attempt to determine what led to the present attempt. In most states, the emergency personnel will decide if the person needs to be hospitalized either voluntarily or by a commitment. If an involuntary commitment is necessary, the hospital staff should explain this legal process to you.
How You Can Help
Even though confidentiality laws will prevent medical personnel from giving you much information about your friend or family member, you can be helpful in providing them with information such as: any access he or she has to weapons and/or medications, whether he or she recently has been seeing a mental health provider or physician, and if there is any family history of suicide. It is also important for the medical personnel to know what you have noticed recently. For example, has your friend or family member been giving possessions away or talking about going away somewhere? If you are aware of a suicide note, that should be disclosed as well.
If your friend or family member is not hospitalized, a clear follow-up plan for treatment should be established. Before discharge you may want to ask him or her one the following questions:
- Do you feel safe to leave the hospital and are you comfortable with the aftercare plan?
- When is your next appointment with your doctor and/or mental health professional?
- Has anything changed since your suicidal feelings or actions began?
- Is there anything I/we could do to help you after you leave the hospital?
- Will you agree to let us know if the suicidal feelings return? If not, is there someone you are willing to talk to about this?
Remember, it is important to pay attention to your own reactions to this event as well. Get support from friends and/or professionals, and utilize informational resources such as those listed below:
- NAMI – www.nami.org (1-800-950-NAMI)
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – www.afsp.org (1-888-333-AFSP)
- For a comprehensive guide, you may go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org and scroll down to “After an Attempt” to access guide booklets or you may contact the organization for information at 1-800-273-8255.