When a family member or close friend attempts or succeeds at suicide, the remaining and affected loved ones are left with the broken fragments of their loved one’s fragile, hurting life. They’re also left with heartache, confusion, grief, guilt, regrets, depression, sometimes anger, and many other emotions and questions.
Suicide is an issue that is very close to my heart. I’ve lost several loved ones to suicide and have had people close to me attempt suicide and (very thankfully) not succeed.
Suicide is one of those taboo, uncomfortable topics that most do not want to talk about…but did you know everybody at some point in their lives will be affected by it?
Here’s some startling, heart wrenching statistics:
- 80% will contemplate suicide at some point during their lifetime
- 50% of all students have thought about suicide
- 15-18% have seriously contemplated suicide with an actual plan to do so
- 8% will actually go through with it
With statistics like these, it becomes imperative to talk about…so why are people so hesitant to do so?
I think suicide is an extremely uncomfortable topic because everybody wants to fancifully believe they and their loved ones are exempt.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Suicide isn’t a respecter of anybody. It tempts the rich and the poor…the young and the old…the successful and the less ambitious…the beautiful and the more ordinary…the super spiritual and those with absolutely no faith affiliation…male and female…and all races. It doesn’t differentiate. All walks of life are affected.
It can affect anybody and everybody, at any given time.
Suicide, as well as mental health issues, have been grotesquely, and unfairly, stigmatized.
People are uncomfortable talking about it, which places a much higher risk for those considering it.
To make matters more complicated, if someone unsuccessfully attempts suicide, they still carry the depression, as well as shame about their attempt…which can also place them at a higher risk.
Many people don’t want to talk about suicide to someone exhibiting signs or those who unsuccessfully attempted suicide, because most feel if they bring the topic up, the person may attempt suicide or try to harm themselves again.
Also, if someone lost a loved one to suicide, there are no words to bring comfort—and that truly scares people so they do the worst thing possible: they ignore the person impacted by the suicide.
Yet, there are so many individuals and families who are wearing the emotional scars that suicide have inflicted on them and they are hurting very, very badly!
I think knowledge and empathy are key. The more people know better, they’ll do better. The more they understand what to do and say, the more they’ll better understand how to comfort others, too!
With that said, here’s what I wish people understood about suicide:
1. Suicide is not primarily meant to be a selfish act-
When a hurting person attempts suicide, they truly are not trying to be selfish. They’re not considering who their actions are about to hurt or devastate…they may even falsely believe they’re making life better for those left behind. They could have ALL the love in the world for their loved ones (and from their loved ones) they are about to leave behind…but their pain just happens to win out. Life has finally become too much for them to cope with and they just want to escape their incredible pain or the painful consequences (of their own self or brought on by others) of whatever they are experiencing or dealing with in life.
They aren’t in their right mind and they aren’t thinking about all of the new crop of problems they’ll be leaving for their family and friends to deal with…so they choose a permanent solution without fully realizing there may be solutions they have not yet thought of…but they genuinely are not trying to do a selfish last act. It can completely seem as though suicide is a most selfish act, but for majority who consider it, they’re not thinking about anything or anyone (including their own self), their focus is just on their own pain.
Think of it this way: if you were thrown out to sea, you would most likely tread water. Even if the waves got choppy, it’d become more challenging but you’d still continue to tread water. Eventually, you’d become weary and feel beat down…but you’d still keep treading water. But, what if it suddenly began to horrifically storm and the waves were engulfing you, forcing you down into the depths of the raging sea…and you kept trying to tread water, but no matter what you tried, nothing seemed to help. Maybe you’d even try to float on your back for awhile but the waves keep pounding you down with no relief? You’re left broken down with no feeling of hope. That’s how life is every single day for someone who is hurting…they just can’t seem to ever catch their breath…so in an incredibly weak moment, they randomly decide to quit on life.
I don’t believe they intentionally mean to quit on their loved ones…they instead feel they are simply quitting on their painful existence that they call life.
Suicide becomes an option after they feel continuing living life isn’t.
Truly, they are NOT trying to hurt anyone and they genuinely are not trying to be selfish…their focus is completely condensed into focusing only on their personal drowning pain.
In one very instant moment, it just became too much.
2. The loved ones left behind (from either an attempt or a succeeded suicide) and the person who unsuccessfully attempted suicide are hurting incredibly but are often ignored, displaced, neglected or left to themselves–
Most people, after attempting suicide, are completely ignored. Family and friends have mixed emotions: some do not know what to say…some are angry the person didn’t reach out to them…some falsely believe the person was selfish or just “trying to get attention”…some are fearful they’ll eventually lose the person to another attempt so they retreat…some are laden with guilt and don’t understand how to apologize or how to make things right or better…so they choose not to talk to the person who attempted or to the family of the one who succeeded.
It is VITAL for people to reach out to those who have attempted suicide, and if the person succeeded, to reach out to the deceased person’s remaining family!
If a person failed at the attempt, not only are they left with the original hurt that drove them to their attempt, they now have to deal with the fact that everybody knows about their attempt. They now may feel foolish, embarrassed, and/or regretful.
If the person was successful, their family and closest friends are writhing in pain and regrets. “If only” and “What if” plague their hearts.
Please do not ignore those impacted by suicide. They need your love and encouragement more than ever! If you’re not sure what to say or do, take a step back and think if it were you or your family member in the same situation…how would you hope others would treat you? What would you want for others to say or do? Empathy goes a long way when dealing with others who are hurting.
Majority of the time, those affected by suicide…or any type of grief for that matter…really just need for people to show up and just be there. No words required or needed.
3. After a loved one unsuccessfully attempts suicide, their family & closest friends will go through extreme heartache, worry, and fear for months…maybe even years…to come–
When a family member or close friend attempts suicide, they unknowingly—and unmeaningly—unleash a multitude of fear and hard emotions onto those closest to them.
They now know what it feels like to almost lose their treasured loved one, so for many months, they will worry and may be fearful that their loved one may attempt suicide again. Each morning, they awake with the all too real understanding that they may get a phone call to say their loved one did something foolish throughout the night. They feel as though they need to be on guard 24/7…and they also probably feel totally helpless.
If they are the ones who found their loved one, the image can haunt their mind daily. They may even experience PTSD from the incident, depending on how bad the scene was.
Also, their loved one who attempted suicide may not be open to talking about what happened and may not be open to receiving help…which can further amplify their bad feelings and experience.
If you know someone who is going through any of this, please contact them. Let them know you’re here for them to talk to. Be a trustworthy friend to them…do NOT betray their trust. They’re already going through so much that they do not need to deal with further gossip or harm. Allow them to feel what they need to feel, free from judgment. They are beyond over-the-moon thankful their loved one is still here…INCREDIBLY THANKFUL…but they will have some emotions (sadness, gratefulness, fear, worry, numbness, panic, depression, etc) they’ll most likely need to talk about and work out. They may even need to speak to a trusted pastor or therapist who can help them through this tough time.
4. Suicide prevention needs to start in homes, churches, and schools…and suicide awareness needs to begin much earlier –
A person will learn how to be kind and compassionate from three primary places: home, church, and school settings.
Suicide prevention truly originates, begins, and continues at each of these places so we must become better at teaching children—at age appropriate levels—the value of their own life, as well as the value of others lives. We have got to start with the purest prevention which is to teach others how to treat one another and also how to get through trials in life.
So many times, we start to educate people on suicide too late when they’re in high school. I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to start educating on suicide-preventing character qualities and coping skills at the youngest – but healthiest – age possible, growing their character education and coping skills each year after that, and then teach suicide prevention (again, at age appropriate levels with age appropriate information) in addition to the character qualities and coping skills starting in middle school.
Something has to change because the current strategies are not completely effective. There are strides though, and I believe people truly want to do better. People genuinely do care! They may just not know how to best go about suicide awareness or prevention within their community or with their loved ones.
I’m so grateful for churches and organizations such as Saddleback Church, To Write Love On Her Arms, and Celebrate Recovery (and other organizations I’ve listed at the end of this post) for doing so much more than the status quo. I’m thoroughly impressed how they are creating dialogue and sparking much needed communication about self-harm, grief, depression, and suicide awareness so people will better understand. Again, when people know better, they can begin to do better.
People, whether in home settings, churches, or schools, need to teach children to understand that their words and actions truly affect others…for the good and also for the bad. We have got to teach children while they are young the character qualities of mercy, kindness, genuine empathy, compassion, and consideration…and give them plenty of opportunities to practice these qualities. We also need to teach them solid coping skills so they can understand how to truly navigate through life no matter what happens to them – especially through unexpected grief experiences.
Suicide prevention education is extremely important! Please check with your local schools, churches, hospitals, and government agencies for education opportunities and ways you can become involved.
It all begins in our homes, churches, and schools—and must continue and be built on each and every year.
5. Suicide isn’t always a mental illness issue–
Sometimes, suicide is very much a mental health issue, but at times, it can also develop from a single isolated moment. Other times, it is an extended grief issue. When people understand which type of issue suicide stems from, they’re much better able to serve and help the person who is hurting.
I think some who are hurting do not reach out for help because they don’t want others to perceive them as mentally ill or “crazy.”
I also think that some who are hurting have been through an isolated incident (such as abuse, rape, adultery, or something similar) and they don’t reach out for help because they don’t want to reveal what has happened in their life.
Other times, I think some who are hurting have not effectively received help for a past or recent grief issue, so their sadness and grief overwhelms them.
No matter where their depression or thoughts of suicide originated from, in a weakened emotional moment, some will – very sadly – choose to end everything.
It is so important to know where loved ones are at emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and grief-wise so we can know how to most effectively help them.
And help them to see that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
6. Sometimes, even the best efforts possible won’t prevent a suicide attempt–
Even with the best plan…the best suicide prevention implemented…the best family and friends…the best strategy to prevent suicide…sometimes, very sadly, nothing works.
I’ve met people who have attempted suicide who seemed to “have it all”—an enormous amount of money, family and friends who deeply love them, a great career, exceptional appearance/looks, great car/home, etc. Yet, their pain catapulted them into thoughts of suicide.
I’ve met families who did everything in their power to help their loved one, got them the best spiritual, psychiatric, professional and therapeutic help possible, brought incredible love and encouragement into the life of their loved one…yet they were not able to stop their loved one from committing suicide.
I wish every family member who is kicking and hating themselves could find the peace, comfort, love and grace for their hurting heart and tortured soul they so desperately need. Sometimes, the best efforts in helping simply failed to connect to the one who chose to commit suicide.
If someone who is reading this is contemplating suicide, I hope and pray they will immediately get the help and relief they so desperately need by contacting a mental health professional or pastor, or immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is NO shame in getting help!
We need to create conversations that drop the stigma from mental health care issues and suicide. If someone has diabetes, there’s no shame…they take medication. If someone breaks a bone, they get a cast. If someone has a thyroid disorder or other autoimmune illness, they take the proper medication so they can live their best life possible. Society needs to understand that medication and treatment for mental health is the same. We would never put a bandaid on a broken arm or tell them, “just go get more exercise, think positive and happy thoughts, and get more sunshine” in lieu of medication and surgery.
Once we make mental health a non-stigmatized priority, the better our chances are of preventing suicide.
7. It is incredibly rude, arrogant, and mean spirited to tell a person their loved one is now in hell due to committing suicide, or to talk about how selfish their loved one was for attempting or committing suicide–
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had a griever share how someone came up to them and informed them that God sent their loved one to hell for committing suicide, or how someone made cutting remarks about how selfish their loved one was. I also can’t tell you how much I find this to be rude and inappropriate.
God is never fond of anyone cutting their life or life purpose short…not at all…but God is also a God of great compassion, love, redemption, mercy, and incredible empathy.
God collects every tear each person cries…records every heartache each person ever goes through in life…carries each person’s grief experiences in His very own heart…and cares so much about each person that His thoughts of them outnumber the grains of sand on the earth! God is not a God of hatefulness…His love always covers over a multitude of sins. This goes for the ones who chose to end their life, the ones who failed at their attempt, as well as the remaining loved ones who are now battling deep grief.
Please consider how you would feel if you were already going through a horrendous grief experience such as suicide…what would you want someone to say to you?
Love others how you would want to be loved in a similar situation. Be the mercy and compassion today that you would hope to receive tomorrow.
It is imperative for the Church to start needed conversations on mental wellness. The Church desperately needs more effective Care Ministries, and the Church also needs to place an emphasis on helping people to understand how important their individual Life Purpose is. Intentionally turning natural perception and awkwardness about suicide topics into a more purpose-filled mission and conversation is beneficial and so needed.
8. There is HEALING and there is HOPE–
Whether you are someone who failed an attempt at suicide or you are the remaining family and close friends of someone who attempted or succeeded at suicide, I truly hope this blog post has helped you. I also hope you will share it with your family and friends to help them better understand your heartache, anguish, and pain.
When people haven’t personally experienced a devastating grief experience such as suicide, there is so much they simply just don’t understand. They most likely do care, very much so, they just don’t have the knowledge of what to say or do.
There is healing in God’s love, healing within grief communities and grief organizations, healing within the love and safety of family, churches, and close friends… and there is HOPE!
There is ALWAYS hope!!!
If you are someone who has attempted suicide, or you feel hopeless and are considering an attempt, I wholeheartedly ask you to seek out and receive the help and encouragement you need. Like I mentioned earlier, if you had a broken leg or severe allergies, you’d get medical treatment to become happy, healthy, and whole again…how much more precious is your heart, spirit, mind, and soul? There are so many loving people who care about you and are willing to help love you back to life. Please contact a trusted pastor, therapist, family member, or friend, or consider calling the National Suicide Hotline or Focus on the Family. All are committed to helping you through this tough time in your life. You have a life purpose that only YOU can do. Without you here, it cannot be accomplished. Your loved ones would be left devastated with a horrible ache in their heart that will never fully heal. Ask them for their help and allow them to fully help, love, and encourage you!
If you are a family member or friend who has lost a loved one to suicide, I am so incredibly sorry for your loss and your devastating heartache, and your ongoing grief and pain. I wholeheartedly encourage you to reach out to a local church, grief organization, or grief support group, as well as trusted family members and friends, so you can begin to heal.
I am including a resource list at the end of this post with helpful encouraging resources to help anyone who is going through a suicide issue or a grief experience.
Thank you for reading this blog post! I hope it truly encourages and motivates all who are hurting, and hope it serves as a bridge to help connect all who read it to important life-saving resources. And I truly hope it encourages each to make a difference in their hurting family members and friends lives!
Gratitude & blessings,
©2015 by Kim Niles/Grief Bites. All rights reserved.
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❤️FREE YouVersion reading plans:
1. Grief Bites: Finding Treasure In Hardships: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/912-grief-bites-finding-treasure-in-hardships
2. Grief Bites: Doubt Revealed: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/954-grief-bites-doubt-revealed
3. Grief Bites: A New Approach To Growing Through Grief https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/862-grief-bites
4. Grief Bites: Hope For The Holidays: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/1964-grief-bites-hope-for-the-holidays
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