Monday, July 22, 2013

The Forgotten Survivors: Family Members of People who Attempt Suicide

Re-posted here with permission from the American Association of Suicidology

Guest Blog: Juliet Carr
Founder of and author of Attempted Suicide: The Essential Guidebook for Loved Ones to be published. She lives in Montrose, Colorado with her husband, 3 children and many rescue and adopted animals.

What would you do if faced with a family member’s or friend’s nonfatal suicide behavior? Where would you search for help? How would you deal with the isolation, stress, anger, blame and guilt while also worrying and working to keep that person alive?
Is this subject even important? And if it is, why hasn’t the field of Suicidology been talking about it?
Juliet pictured here with her children in Montrose, CO
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 2010, there were 38,364 reported suicide deaths and there are an estimated 8-25 attempted suicides for every suicide death. A suicide attempt is defined as “the act of intentionally ending one’s life that does not result in death”. In other words, the person who tried to end their life is still alive. If we use the number six as the number of people dramatically affected by a suicide, we can estimate that somewhere between 1,841,472 and 5,754,600 are affected annually in the United States by a suicide attempt of a loved one, including the attempter.

Estimated Suicide Completions 2010
38,364 reported suicide deaths
230,184 people affected in the US annually
4.45 million Americans are bereaved by suicide

Estimated Suicide Attempts 2010
Between 1,841,472 & 5,754,600 are affected annually in the US by a suicide attempt (including the attempter
30 million Americans have survived a loved ones suicide attempt

So many people are affected by suicidal behavior, and yet, we know very little about their experiences and needs. In fact, family members of people who attempt suicide are in many ways the forgotten survivors in our field.

I know about this, because I am one of those forgotten survivors. My father worked through 16 years of therapy and 14 ECT treatments before his first suicide attempt, which was an overdose. Eight months later he shot himself in the head and lived through that suicide attempt as well. My family and I searched, begged and pleaded for help from professional organizations, support groups and coalitions to find that while there are books, websites, studies, chat rooms and organizations dedicated to people bereaved by a suicide loss there was absolutely nothing for someone who had a loved one attempt suicide.

We are sent home from emergency rooms, mental health institutions, and state mental hospitals with no discharge papers, no instructions, no safety plans and no support. We are often blamed for the suicide attempt by professionals and friends but then sent home with my father by those same professionals with the charge of keeping our loved one alive. The strange thing about this is that most of us haven’t even taken a college psychology course let alone have the strength, support system and knowledge to keep a suicidal person alive, but that is what the profession asks of us and society demands.  Because of this experience I began my own healing process and then became motivated to help other families who experience this same tragedy.

I have spent the last 5 years researching, interviewing people, and creating resources for loved ones affected by a suicide attempt. To date I have interviewed 33 people worldwide who have had a loved one attempt suicide, or have attempted suicide themselves. The people I interviewed were between the ages of 20 and 70, were male and female, and had daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, fathers, husbands, wives, mothers, and friends attempt suicide or had also attempted suicide themselves. The interviews have been conducted in person, over the phone, or via email questionnaire. Everyone interviewed who had a loved one attempt suicide searched in vain for resources, support, and answers to their questions only to find nothing helpful or specific to the subject of a suicide attempt, not a suicide completion. For many reasons, most of my research participants wanted their coping process to remain anonymous and possibly work through their grief at their own pace, not in a support group or chat room setting. 

Some of the common questions from loved ones were:
·         What do I say to someone who has attempted suicide? How can I help them?
·         What do I tell my children, my boss, and my friends?
·         How do I support everyone who is affected while keeping myself as healthy as possible?
·         Will I ever feel better and if so, how long will it take?
·         Is what I am going through common or normal?

Common experiences after a suicide attempt included:
·         Isolation
·         discrimination from professionals
·         feelings of disbelief, anger,
·         guilt
·         fear
·         somatic problems: headaches, intestinal problems, feelings of being kicked in the gut,
·         memory loss
·         lack of sleep
·         PTSD and other anxiety problems
·         depression
·         financial repercussions
·         gallows humor
·         suicidal thoughts and actions of their own after the attempt
·         a need to work through their grief.

I found it difficult to find loved ones who were willing to be interviewed. It seems asking a person to return to that time in their life has a very strong effect on people who love someone who has attempted suicide, even years after the attempt.
Additional challenges loved ones faced after a suicide attempt included:
·         legalities from states where suicide and attempting suicide are illegal
·         questions of when to report a suicide threat as it was very common for long periods of time for the person who attempted to threaten but not attempt;
·         blame from professionals
·         72 hour hold laws for someone threatening suicide
·         Complications with health insurance; inability or difficulty in getting health and life insurance after an attempt;
·         How to face the person who attempted
·         How to deal with means restriction after the attempt (One mom described this as feeling like a prisoner in her own home. She chose to lock all means of self-harm in her bedroom away from her daughter after two suicide attempts. So when she needed a knife for cooking she would have to unlock her bed room to retrieve a cooking knife, when she needed scissors she had to unlock her room door to get scissors. In addition, she was surrounded by all means of self-harm in her bedroom, which prior to this event she regarded as her private safe haven);
·         emotional blackmail;
·         threats of future suicide attempts;
·         working to rebuild trust, boundaries and lives;
·         financial problems because of the cost of recovery and/or the inability to be as productive or present at work.

People who had a loved one attempt suicide started to feel like themselves two to five years after the most recent attempt. This is important information because it provides an honest expectation and hope that their lives can return to good.
From these research findings, I developed a website that is designed to help loved ones of people who attempt suicide: On this website people can learn:
·         What to say, What not to say
·         What to expect in the first 72 hours, first month and first 6 months for suicide attempters and for loved ones,
·         What you can do to care for yourself,
·         What you can do to help the attempter,
·         Information for professionals,
·         Material for friends of loved ones,
·         A downloadable blank safety plan,
·         A downloadable blank daily goals sheet and tools for wellness
·         Statistics, links to suicide prevention organizations,
·         A blog
·         A storefront.

Family members who are caring for a person who has attempted suicide are usually working to keep someone alive who is working to die.  This is arduous work they have been forced into while being unprepared, uneducated, and until now, unsupported. To answer the above question; I know this work is important because people who have a loved one attempt suicide experience their own suicidal thoughts and their own challenges. I believe the reason the field of Suicidology has not talked about this subject is because of stigma, fear, and difficulty in finding people willing to be interviewed and honest about their personal experience with attempted suicide. While this work has been personally challenging it has allowed me a way to find commonalities in our experiences, set personal expectations of my own healing process, allowed a gap to be filled in the human race that is desperately needed and given me the ability to teach myself, children and friends warning signs for mental illness and tools to help keep us all well when we are faltering.
For more information:


  1. is there any thing we can do for the family members? like the way of counsling them?

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  2. I'm finding it hard to find any help/info for myself after my dad attempted suicide :( does anyine know of any chat rooms or online support?

    1. my dad too 4 days ago. i don't know what to do

  3. megan, my dad too 4 days ago. i don't know what to do

  4. megan, my dad too 4 days ago. i don't know what to do

  5. I was not happy until i met Dr. Esu through his email: because my husband has left me and never had the intention of coming back home. But just within 48 hours that i contacted Dr. Esu my marriage changed to the positive side, At first my husband came back home and since then my marriage has been more peaceful and romantic than ever before... It could be of help to you as well .

  6. I am an attempt survivor , I live with the guilt my 3 beautiful daughters found me and I know the impact it had on them ...! Be firm but kind, although we get mad and say we don't want people around isolation makes it worse , make them shower daily and try to spare a 5 minute walk away from traffic and white noise it brings you back to basics ..., my poor daughters were to scared to go to uni or anything if I could change what I did that day I would but please know there is a brighter future ...!

  7. My suicide attempt gave my wife PTSD. In May of 2017, I intentionally overdosed on heroin. Now, if she cannot contact me for any reason, the immediate moment she tries to call with no answer from me, she panics, fearing that the very same thing is happening again. I completely understand and empathize with exactly what she feels in those moments of panic, as I would absolutely feel the same if our situations were reversed and she were the one to have attempted.
    She has flashbacks, nightmares, and constant anxiety about my safety when we're apart for any length of time.
    It's the uncontactability that triggers the memories and fears in her the most, as when I made that attempt, I was 'missing' and uncontactable for 3 days, because I was comatose in the back of the acquaintance I got the stuff from's van, and my phone had died so this person wasn't able to let her nor anyone attempting to contact me during that time know of my whereabouts.

    My mother on the other hand, has always been apathetic about it. Before I met my wife, she was the only person in my life, therefore the one I shared my every thought with. I have complex post traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder, and nothing I've ever said, sharing my deepest thoughts, have ever phased her in the slightest - irritation at best, and silencing tactics. That stands to this day.

  8. In August of 2000 my father overdosed on a whole bottle of prescription medication. He had been put back on the medication after he didn't want to take it anymore. The Doctor suggested he go back on it. On the second time he overdosed on prescription drug, taking a whole bottle at once, he shot himself in the head. It's been roughly 18 years now that he is still alive. 18 years and I am now 36. It never gets better. We can only lie our away around things, change the topic of conversations about family or fabricate areas so that we don't have to speak about it. I cannot have a conversation at all with my father about those times some 18 years ago or at least without it getting out of hand. I had lost nearly all my high school friendships over my family situation. Most couldn't understand what I was going through or could not accept what he had done. My mother, in fear that I was just like my father, took me to the hospital when I was 19 after I was getting emotional, remembering the incidents again. She had nothing to say to me other than thinking I should talk to "someone". Later I would forever regret signing myself into a psych ward. I admit I have severe depression for a very long time, yet I am sane. Trying to work and keep a job had been hell, period. I was working at the very same place my parents had worked at. Suicide jokes were common at the workplace. in 2006, my night shift manager threatened that she would put a 350 magnum at my head and wouldn't have any trouble pulling the trigger if we were to ever even kiss and I had said anything to anyone. I resigned from my job of nearly 6 years (from a school district). Went on to receive SSDI from my now mental diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder. I've gone on to try to work, mostly part time jobs here and there but usually not for long. It's been a real struggle for me. When you tell them your problems, they give you special treatment. I need not special treatment, it actually has a reverse affect on me. I need people who understand, regardless. The world needs people who understand, regardless of any situation or regardless of who you think the person standing next to you is, they're not. This past year I attempted to work a full time job for the first time. I reported it to social security as soon as I started working. It felt great, my managers all loved me and the work I did and how I represented myself. I continued to receive SSDI payments, I had thought they were part of a work trial period. Everything was great until I started losing serious amounts of sleep because I slept during the daytime with the over night shift. I started getting 1 hour sleep per day. Day after day, I became thrown off and uninterested with the work environment and slowly started to have suicidal thoughts that were creeping back in. I finally resigned from my position in October 2017. I called social security to let them know. They refused and denied that I had ever reported that I had started working and now am told I owe them nearly $12,000. I tried to explain to them everything about my situation and that I was suicidal. I have a difficult time comprehending things, especially rules & there's a book worth for social security. What's worse is I have a difficult time communicating and especially on the phone, it's part of my mental disability that I suffer from. Why is it so difficult for people to say, okay you have a mental disability, yet expect 100% mental capabilities out of you. It's hypocritical & now I am afraid I am severely depressed, anxious, moody and the suicidal thoughts are creeping back in again. My only advice is when it comes to the mental health world, deny everything. Unless you've committed a crime, deny it till the day you die, because you have the right to have a mind and emotions and no one can take that from you. As soon as you give in it's a vicious cycle, even the mind can't keep up with. Thank you for reading, some of my life story.

  9. Wow... can I just say that I very much understand. Our stories are similar in the fact that I’m going on 14 years after my father tried to overdose on prescription pills that were suppose to help him. I know the pain you are feeling... I have so much trauma unprocessed and as adult now it is affecting in my life in all sorts of way. Please know you are not alone... just reading your story has helped me on a particularly rough day. Thank you!

  10. I just want to give a quick advise to any one out there that is having difficulty in findng their Lost or Missing one to contact Dr.Agbazara because he is the only one that is capable to bring back your love once with his spiritual powers within time limit of 48 hours Like he did for me. You can contact Dr.Agbazara by email on ( ) OR Call/WHATSAPP: +234 81041 0 2662. And see wonders for your self.