5 Ways to Show Support When a Friend’s Loved One Attempts Suicide
A friend just told you his or her loved one attempted suicide. How does one react to this information?
First and foremore, be there.
Be there for the person who just told you this information, and be fully present with them. Because for every person who’s struggling with mental illness, there are loved ones who care for them. As a therapist who supports family members of those who have mental illness, I can tell you those loved ones need help, too.
Just as the person who has a mental illness struggles with guilt, shame and fear of being judged, so do the loved ones. They too may be fearful to speak openly. So if someone does open up to you about their loved ones’ mental illness, please know they value your support and friendship. They know you can’t fix everything by saying the right thing, but you can be there. Listen to them. Talk to them.
Here are some tips that can help you support your friend:
1. Ask questions.
If the person is comfortable, ask questions. Do so because you want to understand and provide empathy, not out of curiosity. This actually may be a nice change for the loved one. Because the topic of mental illness can make people feel uncomfortable, some might respond with silence, change the subject or offer a hurried statement. If you don’t understand something, ask. It’s better to fully understand than to make assumptions.
2. Don’t assume your friend can tell you what he or she needs.
Don’t assume your friend knows what they need. In times of stress, it’s common not to know. If they’re sharing with you, most likely they just need you to listen.
3. Offer practical help.
Offer/do practical things for your friend. Offer to babysit, bring groceries or bring dinner. Any of those things can be helpful. If someone is hospitalized, visiting hours are often in the evening, so things such as meals and childcare can be important.
4. Encourage self-care.
Remind your friend to engage in self-care. Offer to go to the movies, meet for coffee or go on a walk with them. Friends and family of those with mental illness need to manage their own stress as well.
5. Check in.
Check in with your friend periodically about their loved one. One reason that mental illness is so isolating is because people don’t talk about it. While it can be uncomfortable for both the person struggling and the family, it’s uncomfortable for them not to talk about it, too. They’ll appreciate knowing that you care enough to check in.
A version of this post originally appeared on the JLF Counseling Services blog.
If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.