When Life Continues: Recovering from a Suicide Attempt

A man observes the city at dawnIf you or a loved one is in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Surviving a suicide attempt can lead to a range of intense emotions and feelings. Many people report feeling a new sense of hope or believing they survived for a reason. Others might feel renewed hopelessness or begin to have thoughts of making another attempt. Some people feel love and compassion from friends and family. Others might feel increasingly alone.

Other emotions might include:

  • Relief, or being glad the attempt failed
  • Disappointment or confusion
  • Embarrassment and shame
  • Fatigue, lethargy, or general overwhelm
  • Anger

Whatever feelings you experience, it’s essential to work with a counselor trained in helping people recover from suicide attempts. Healing from a suicide attempt is possible, though recovery time may vary depending on different factors. According to Tamara Hill, MS, NCC, CCTP, LPC, “Recovery is possible with planning, but recovery should be multi-dimensional.”

Getting Help After a Suicide Attempt

One of the first steps in recovering from a suicide attempt is seeking health care. It’s important to get medical attention for any physical injuries or illness related to the attempt. A mental health professional will talk to you at the hospital to see how you’re feeling and whether you’re still at risk for suicide. If you’re already working with a therapist, the hospital can contact them.

If you’re still in crisis or your doctor or counselor is concerned for your safety, they may recommend you remain in the hospital as a patient until your suicide risk has decreased. People at high risk for suicide who don’t want to be admitted to the hospital may be hospitalized involuntarily for a few days. This isn’t common. It’s only likely to happen if your care providers believe you are very likely to attempt suicide again very soon. You may not want to stay in the hospital, but if you plan to make another attempt, remaining somewhere safe is a good idea.

It’s important that you prioritize your healing and spend time with people who can offer support. Some of your loved ones may need time to work through their own feelings, but you can only be responsible for your own recovery. Once you’re home, your friends and family may ask questions you aren’t sure how to answer. Suicide is a topic that’s still surrounded by stigma, so it can be difficult to talk about what you experienced.

Remember that you don’t have to share anything you don’t want to. If you want to talk to your loved ones but need more time, let them know you’re still sorting through your feelings. Your counselor can help you work through what to say if you’re struggling to find the right words.

You’ve just experienced something very traumatic. Your family and friends may be affected by your decision to attempt suicide. Some people may say thoughtless or hurtful things out of grief or fear. It’s important that you prioritize your healing and spend time with people who can offer support. Some of your loved ones may need time to work through their own feelings, but you can only be responsible for your own recovery.

How Long Does It Take to Recover from a Suicide Attempt?

Recovery from attempted suicide can take time. The amount of time may depend on several factors, including the level of social/emotional support you have and how you continue to work through the challenges affecting your mental health.

Recovery typically happens in stages. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing lists five common phases of recovery:

  1. A person realizes that they still have business in life and/or that they don’t want to die.
  2. A person becomes aware that they need to seek help from others, such as professionals or loved ones.
  3. A person re-encounters stress and hardship in their life.
  4. A person adjusts their behavior to better cope with life’s challenges.
  5. A person accepts that there are good and bad parts to life and begins to invest in their own well-being.

The same study suggests recovery is often nonlinear. People often move back and forth between stages of self-awareness, adjustment, and acceptance. A person may feel average one day, stressed the next, and then hopeful the third.

Self-care is an important part of recovery.

  • You can take care of yourself physically by getting enough sleep, taking any medications your doctor or psychiatrist prescribed, making time for physical activity, and eating nourishing foods.
  • Activities such as listening to music, writing in a journal, or working with your hands or body can help you feel better emotionally.
  • Many people find yoga and meditation to be both emotionally and physically beneficial.

These things can all have a positive impact on recovery.

Therapy for Suicide Recovery

In many cases, the triggers leading to a suicide attempt don’t go away after the attempt. If you were working with a therapist before attempting suicide but therapy wasn’t helping, consider trying a new approach to treatment. Not every approach works for every person. Talk with your therapist about what’s working and what isn’t. If there’s a new concern in your life that’s adding stress, try to address this in therapy so you can develop ways to cope.

Check in frequently with your therapist, and be honest about what you’re feeling. Your therapist’s job is to help you, and they are trained to do so with compassion and without judgment.Another important component of therapy after a suicide attempt is developing your crisis/safety plan. According to Hill, this plan might include, “triggers, warning signs of evident regression in health, and a concrete plan of coping skills to use to avoid hospitalization or suicide attempts.” Hill goes on to emphasize the importance of societal support, which might include “addresses to local groups, registration information to educational seminars, and websites to local organizations that support suicide recovery.”

Your therapist can help you develop a safety plan. Check in frequently with your therapist, and be honest about what you’re feeling. Your therapist’s job is to help you, and they are trained to do so with compassion and without judgment.

If you have family support (or support from your partner or close friends), consider including them in your recovery plan and therapy if possible. Suicide is a difficult topic, and your family and friends may not know how to talk to you about what happened. They may be working through their own feelings about the attempt. Therapy can provide a safe space for you and your loved ones to share your thoughts—when you’re ready to do so.

Preventing Future Suicide Attempts

Making one suicide attempt is a risk factor for future suicide attempts. A 2014 review of articles looking at suicide found that one in 25 people who are hospitalized for self-harm complete suicide within five years. A 2016 study looking at 1,490 people who attempted suicide found almost 82% of those who didn’t complete their first attempt completed a second attempt within one year.

It’s important to have a crisis plan when recovering from a suicide attempt. This is something you might talk about with your therapist. Your crisis plan might include:

  • A list of what triggers suicidal thoughts or feelings.
  • A list of things that help you cope with triggers.
  • A list (or photos) of your loved ones, pets, and other things that are important to you. These can help you cope in a time of crisis.
  • Names and numbers of people you can reach out to, such as friends, family, your therapist and doctor, or others you trust.
  • Numbers for immediate care, such as the nearest emergency room, a suicide helpline, or other emergency services.
  • A list of steps to keep yourself safe if you are in crisis. For example, you might plan how you could avoid or get rid of items in your house that you could harm yourself with.

It’s also important to seek support from others. Re-establishing connections with people who care for you can have a significant impact on recovery. Different people in your life can help in different ways, so don’t be afraid to reach out to the people who care about you.

It helps to be clear about what you need. For example, if you don’t feel like talking, you could ask family members or close friends if they can keep you company when you’re struggling to cope with difficult feelings. You might say something like, “I don’t want to talk, but I want to distract myself from thinking about hurting myself. Can we go for a walk?”

After surviving a suicide attempt, you may feel lost and uncertain of your next steps. The journey forward may seem long and difficult. But recovery is possible! Take the time you need to heal, and make sure you have social and professional support as you work toward recovery. Remember, you are not alone. There is hope for the future.

References:

  1. After an attempt. (n.d.). American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Retrieved from https://afsp.org/find-support/ive-made-attempt/after-an-attempt
  2. Bostwick, J. M., Pabbati, C., Geske, J. R., & McKean, A. J. (2016, August 13). Suicide attempt as a risk factor for completed suicide: Even more lethal than we knew. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 173(11), 1094-1100. Retrieved from https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.15070854
  3. Carrigan, C. G., & Lynch, D. J. (2003). Managing suicide attempts: Guidelines for the primary care physician. The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 5(4) 169-174. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC419387
  4. Carroll, R., Metcalfe, C., & Gunnell, D. (2014, February 28). Hospital presenting self-harm and risk of fatal and non-fatal repetition: Systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE, 9(2). Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0089944
  5. Chi, M. T., Long, A., Jeang, S. R., Ku, Y. C., Lu, T., & Sun, F. K. (2014). Healing and recovering after a suicide attempt: A grounded theory study. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 23(11-12), 1751-1759. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24251862
  6. Recovering after a suicide attempt. (n.d.). SuicideLine Victoria. Retrieved from https://www.suicideline.org.au/resource/recovering-after-a-suicide-attempt
  7. Sellin, L., Asp, M., Kumlin, T., Wallsen, T., & Gustin, L. W. (2017, February 28). To be present, share and nurture: A lifeworld phenomenological study of relatives’ participation in the suicidal person’s recovery. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-being, 12(1). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5345596
  8. A journey toward health and hope [PDF]. (2015). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://store.samhsa.gov/system/files/sma15-4419.pdf

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  • Curtis M.

    Curtis M.

    February 19th, 2019 at 7:20 AM

    What is the true root ’cause’ for suicide? Abuse? Lack of spiritual or other identity (to not ‘know thy self’)? Lack of being/feeling loved? Feeling bad for not being able to get away with being a serial killer?

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