What to Say to Someone Who Has Attempted Suicide

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If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

If someone in your life has attempted suicide, you may find yourself feeling shocked, hurt, and upset. You may desperately want to reach out to them, but may not know exactly what to say or do to help them.

Many people don’t quite know how to talk about a suicide attempt, which can cause them to avoid discussing it altogether, says Jenna Hennessy, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and instructor of medical psychology (in psychiatry) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Unfortunately, suicide is still a stigmatized topic and it can, understandably, bring up a lot of emotions.”

However, rather than ignoring it, Dr. Hennessy explains that it’s important to gently lean into your discomfort and discuss the suicide attempt with your loved one. “We may not be able to solve someone’s problems for them or take away their distress, but we can provide an ear and a space free from judgment for our loved one to tell us what they are going through."

Jenna Hennessy, PhD

It’s important to show the person they are not alone in facing the challenges they are going through.

— Jenna Hennessy, PhD

This article discusses what you should and shouldn’t say to someone who has attempted suicide and suggests some ways to support your loved one at this time.

What to Say to Someone Who Has Attempted Suicide

Below, Dr. Hennessy shares some things that you should say to someone who has attempted suicide, to show your support.

“I’m so glad you’re here”

How this can be helpful, according to Dr. Hennessy: It serves as a reminder that they are loved and that other people would be affected by their loss.

“I know I can’t fix this for you, but I’m here to support you in any way I can.”

How this can be helpful, according to Dr. Hennessy: It is not your job, nor would it be effective, for you to fix someone else’s problems. This may be an uncomfortable truth to come to terms with, because we want to help our loved ones find a way out of their distress as fast as possible. 

However, one of the most helpful things we can do is be a source of support while the person finds their own path forward.

“What’s on your mind?”

How this can be helpful, according to Dr. Hennessy: Oftentimes, the person may not know how to start sharing, so simple questions such as “Tell me how you’ve been feeling” or “What’s on your mind?” are good places to start.

“I’m here to listen whenever you’re ready to talk.”

How this can be helpful, according to Dr. Hennessy: Sometimes the most helpful thing to say is nothing at all. Provide a safe space so the person can come and tell you about what happened that led to their suicide attempt.

“Have you been thinking about attempting it again? If so, how?”

How this can be helpful, according to Dr. Hennessy: One of the greatest risk factors for a completed suicide is a prior attempt. It is, therefore, vital to understand what the person is thinking and how they are feeling following the attempt, to help keep them safe in the future. 

If your loved one is contemplating another attempt, it is imperative that you find out what their plan is and how to mitigate risk factors. This can involve removing means from their home, and working with them to create a safety plan (i.e., what to do/who to contact when feeling suicidal), and calling emergency services if you think their life is in danger.

What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Attempted Suicide

Below, Dr. Hennessy lists some things you shouldn’t say to someone who has attempted suicide.

“I need to know why you did this.”

How this can be harmful, according to Dr. Hennessy: Many people aren’t clear on their exact reason for attempting suicide. Or, they may feel that they’ll be judged and misunderstood for whatever underlying reasons they did have. Rather than demanding to know the reason why they did it, gently ask what’s on their mind instead.

“How could you do this to me/us?”

How this can be harmful, according to Dr. Hennessy: You are probably feeling a range of emotions—including anger, hurt, and confusion—following your loved one’s suicide attempt.

Nevertheless, it is not helpful to ask questions that cause them to experience feelings of guilt or shame, as these emotions can isolate them further, which is the opposite of what we want to do to someone following a suicide attempt.

“How could you have been so selfish?”

How this can be harmful, according to Dr. Hennessy: This takes the focus off of the person’s feelings and places it onto you and your feelings. 

It is certainly important for you to get your own help and support following a loved one’s suicide attempt, in order to ensure you have a safe space to process your own emotional reactions.

However, when you are talking to the individual who attempted suicide, you need to put that anger aside for a moment and help them feel supported and loved, instead of ashamed and guilty.

“You should have just come to me for help.”

How this can be harmful, according to Dr. Hennessy: It is likely that the individual who attempted suicide either tried seeking help to no avail, or felt so hopeless that they didn’t think anything or anyone could help. Minimizing their pain is not helpful.

“You just need some rest and to get out of the house, then you should be back to normal!”

How this can be harmful, according to Dr. Hennessy: Overly simplistic problem-solving such as this can lead people to feel invalidated and unheard in their level of distress.

“This was a failed/unsuccessful attempt.”

How this can be harmful, according to Dr. Hennessy: We want to be cautious not to perpetuate the idea that being alive is a failure on the person’s part. Instead, it would be more effective to highlight the ways in which their being alive has a positive impact.

How to Support Someone Who Has Attempted Suicide

Dr. Hennessy suggests some ways you can support a loved one who has attempted suicide:

  • Acknowledge the suicide attempt: It’s important to acknowledge what happened and provide a non-judgmental space for the person to share their feelings while they find their own ways of healing. 
  • Offer your support: Show up for them by providing emotional support, validation, and a shoulder to lean on when needed. This can take the form of whatever feels appropriate for you and your relationship with the person.
  • Don’t make it about you: Talking about a suicide attempt may feel overwhelming and scary, or bring up other emotions like guilt and anger. These emotions are perfectly natural and valid. However, it’s important for you to find the time and space for to process these emotions separately instead of letting them be a deterrent from connecting with your loved one, acknowledging the suicide attempt, or offering your support.
  • Find ways to connect them to a treatment team: This type of logistical functioning may feel inaccessible to someone who has just attempted suicide. It can be helpful to do the background research and find providers who are available to help them. A treatment team can look different for everyone but can include individuals such as counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, community resources, support groups, skill groups, and religious or spiritual leaders. Ideally, we want to remind people that they are not alone and that there are people out there who know what they’re experiencing and can help.
  • Create a safety plan with them: Help them identify their possible triggers for suicidal ideation and/or action urges, as well as what to do when those triggers come up. This can also include removing means (such as pills, guns, sharp objects, etc.) from their home for the time being until they are in treatment and fully committed to safety.
  • Know your role and your limitations: If you are not a trained mental health professional, it is not your responsibility to take on that role. One of the best things you can do is realize where you may be out of depth in helping your loved one and connect them to someone with expertise in this area.

Jenna Hennessy, PhD

I encourage family members and loved ones to seek their own professional help as they navigate the emotional aftermath of a loved one’s suicide attempt. You are also experiencing a valid reaction to a jarring and upsetting event, so it can be helpful to find support and know that you’re not alone.

— Jenna Hennessy, PhD

A Word From Verywell

It’s extremely important to support a loved one who has attempted suicide in order to make them feel safe and loved and help prevent any future attempts. 

Showing them you’re happy they’re alive and listening to them without judgment are a few ways to show your support. Helping them find treatment resources, creating a safety plan together, and removing means from their home can help save their life.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bostwick JM, Pabbati C, Geske JR, McKean AJ. Suicide attempt as a risk factor for completed suicide: even more lethal than we knew. Am J Psychiatry. 2016;173(11):1094-1100. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.15070854

  2. Klonsky ED, May AM, Saffer BY. Suicide, suicide attempts, and suicidal ideation. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2016;12:307-330. doi:10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-021815-093204

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.