Finding our way back

The information presented here provides practical information for you, your family and friends about what to do and what to expect if someone has attempted suicide.

It is natural to have many different feelings, thoughts and concerns. You might not know what to do or what to say. This is a starting point for working through some of the questions that can come up after a suicide attempt.

We spoke to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have been through this themselves. People who have attempted suicide, and their family members and friends, played an important role in developing the content below and their words are used throughout.



After a suicide attempt

If you or someone close to you has attempted suicide, you are likely to feel a lot of emotions and react in many ways. This might include:

  • feeling sad and sometimes helpless
  • feeling guilty or angry
  • feeling ashamed or embarrassed about what has happened
  • not knowing what to do or say
  • being unsure about the future.

Things you can do if you have attempted suicide

  • Talk with someone you trust as openly and honestly as you can about how you feel.
  • See a doctor or other health worker at the hospital or local clinic.
  • Stay somewhere safe – this could be with someone you trust either at home or at a friend or relative’s house.
  • Limit or avoid drinking alcohol or taking drugs – they can make you feel worse.
  • Have a list of phone numbers of friends, relatives and health services that you can ring if you need support.
  • Remove objects around you that you might use to harm yourself.
  • Don’t judge yourself in a bad way - a lot of people go through hard times but things can get better.
  • Try to get into a good routine with sleep and by eating well.
  • Connect with family, community and culture.
  • Do things that you enjoy like listening to music, going fishing, camping, art and sport.

If you are feeling suicidal it is very important not to be alone. It is also important to find someone that you can have a talk to. There are people that care and will want to support you to get through this. Have a yarn with someone like a friend, family or community member, Elder or a health worker.

Things you can do if your family member or friend has attempted suicide

  • Be there for them and talk as openly and honestly as you can with them.
  • Listen carefully without making judgments and try not to ask too many questions.
  • Support them to go to the hospital, doctor or local clinic.
  • Offer to help them find somewhere safe and comfortable to stay.
  • If you feel comfortable doing so, remove objects in the house they might use to harm themself.
  • Offer practical assistance like cooking meals or helping around the house.
  • Offer to do things with them that they enjoy like going for a walk, on a picnic, to a movie or watching sport.
  • Look after yourself, as times can get tough.
  • Tell someone else and ask for advice if you are unsure of what to do or say.

If you are worried that someone close to you is thinking about ending their life, talk to them as soon as possible. Tell them that you care about them and want to be able to help. Ask how they are going and if they are thinking of harming themselves.

If they say yes, always treat it seriously and don’t think it is attention seeking or something they’ll just get over. You don’t need to deal with the situation alone – get support from other family or health workers straight away. Stay with the person until you feel sure they are safe.

Warning signs to watch for

After a suicide attempt it can take some time for things to start to feel better. During this time, people can still be at risk.

Common signs that you or someone close to you may be thinking about suicide include:

  • being quiet, sad, not sleeping not enjoying usual things like being with friends and community
  • feeling everything is hopeless, and that there is no point in trying to make things better
  • drinking alcohol or taking drugs, or taking more than usual
  • being moody and doing risky things
  • thinking and talking about ways to die or suicide
  • going back to places where people have died or where they are remembered
  • giving away things for no reason and making final arrangements like a will or sorting out debts.

It is important to remember that sometimes there are signs and sometimes there may be no signs that someone is thinking about suicide.

 

You have to go and have a good yarn with someone you trust...get it off your chest...it will give you a clear headspace to think about what to do next.''




 

Why people attempt suicide

Everyone’s experience is different and there are many reasons why people may attempt suicide. Sometimes it is hard to pinpoint any one reason and it may be that things have built up over a long time.

People who have attempted suicide talk about feeling such emotional pain and turmoil that they couldn’t see any other way to stop it.

There are a number of things that can lead to emotional pain or make it feel worse.

  • Someone close might have died, especially if the person took their own life.
  • Drug and alcohol use can add to problems.
  • People may feel lost and like they don’t belong, particularly survivors of the Stolen Generation and their families.
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless can make it hard to get through each day.
  • Being alone and away from family, culture and community can be isolating.

  • A person might be in a violent or abusive relationship.
  • Debts and not having enough money can be a big problem.
  • A person may feel rejected after a relationship break-up, or a fight with family, friends or the broader community.
  • Getting in trouble with the police or going to jail can make people feel they are no good.
  • Having a physical or mental illness can make it hard to bounce back when problems happen.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and suicide

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have the oldest surviving culture in the world. Individuals and communities have shown resilience in many hardships and grief since colonisation from the loss of land, children, culture, community, identity and pride. Trauma from these losses has been passed down from one generation to the next and can be compounded by new experiences of racism and hardship.

These experiences can contribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ experiences of depression, anxiety and other problems, including attempted suicide and death by suicide.

The strength that individuals and communities have shown in being able to keep going in the face of hardship is something that can be drawn on for healing after you or someone close to you has attempted suicide.

 

Common reactions

 

People who have attempted suicide feel:

  • exhausted and numb
  • embarrassed or shamed
  • guilt for the worry caused to others
  • anger at having survived
  • relief at having survived.

 

 

 

Family members and friends can feel:

  • afraid
  • shocked and confused
  • sad and angry
  • a sense of betrayal
  • guilt at not having been able to stop it.

Getting support

If you or someone you care about has just attempted suicide, it is important to see a doctor or mental health worker at either a hospital or clinic to make sure both physical and mental health are OK.

At the hospital

At hospital, medical staff will look at physical injuries first. After these have been treated, they will then arrange for a mental health worker to come and talk about what was happening before the attempt.

This may include asking about:

  • if there have been any changes in mood
  • how day-to-day things (such as work or looking after the family) have been going
  • if there have been any major stresses such as someone close dying or a relationship break-up
  • if there is a family history of mental health problems. 

Using this information, the mental health worker will talk about what could be helpful and ways to put these ideas in place. They may also make referrals to a doctor, counsellor or other community service for support after hospital.

At the local medical clinic

If you or the person you support have gone to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical service, other health service or local doctor, it is likely that they will also first check out physical injuries or problems.

Once the doctor or health worker is satisfied there are no physical problems, they will talk more about what has been happening, what support is available at home and in the community, and if there are any risks of further harm. Depending on the answers, they may make a referral to the hospital or other service. They will also usually ask you to come back for a follow-up appointment to check how you are going.

Before leaving hospital or the clinic

Before you or the person you are supporting head home, make sure you ask questions and get information.

This might include:

  • what you can do that will make it easier to get through the next couple of days
  • what support is available in the community
  • what to do if the suicidal thoughts happen again either during the day or at night
  • the names and contact details of telephone services that are available 24 hours a day
  • the names and contact details of other services that you can ring if there is a crisis.

 

Linking with health or community services

There are a range of services available to support people after a suicide attempt.

Whether you, or the person you care about, choose an Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal health service, it is important to find one that feels safe and comfortable.

Staff in some services may be relatives and for this or other reasons, you may not be comfortable speaking with them about personal things.

It can take time to find a worker that suits and it is OK to keep trying different services or workers until you find someone you connect with and feel you can trust. It’s important to find the right person.

All health organisations have systems in place for clients to provide feedback. Ask reception or administration how you can provide feedback. Alternatively, contact the Health Services Commission or Department of Health in your state for advice on how to make a complaint or provide positive feedback.

Medications

Medication is sometimes given to people after they have attempted suicide to help with emotions. There are different types of medications and sometimes it can take a little while to work.

Some medicines work for some people and not for others. Some medications can also make the person who is taking them feel worse (even suicidal) and may need to be stopped or changed.

If you or the person you support feel any medicine is not working, it is very important to speak with a doctor as soon as possible. You might want to ask for a longer appointment so there is time to talk through everything that has been happening.

Sometimes, it can take several tries before the right medication is found and it is important to keep seeing a doctor while it is sorted out.


 

I have attempted suicide. What do I need to know?

The first few days after a suicide attempt can be hard going but there are things you can do that may make it easier.

  • Keep appointments with doctors or mental health workers, follow their advice and take any medications they prescribe.
  • Remove things in the house that you could harm yourself with if suicidal thoughts return.
  • Try to get a good amount of sleep and eat proper meals.
  • Limit alcohol and drugs, or avoid them altogether, as they can make you feel worse.
  • Do artwork or keep a journal to express your healing process.

Family and friends can help with these things as well as provide a lot of other support. They will want to let you know they care but may feel unsure about what to do or say. Letting them know what works for you can be helpful.

Thoughts about suicide and death can stay around for a while after a suicide attempt. It is important to be in contact with other people until things have settled down. In the first instance you need to focus on finding ways to stay safe. Once you are safe you can work out how you are going to get the help you need.


Talking about what has happened

You may or may not want to talk about what has happened. It is common to feel unsure and worried about what to say. When you are ready, it is important to talk about what has happened with people you trust.

This allows others to be there for you and provides a chance to think through what has happened and work out where to go from here.

It is also important to think about what you and those close to you will say to others in the family or community.

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The future

After a suicide attempt it can be hard to see what the future holds. It is important to remember that there is hope for change but that change often happens slowly. You can expect life to still have ups and downs. 

However, by focusing on the potential for change following your darkest times, and accepting the assistance of others, you can create opportunities that offer hope and direction for your future.

''You are not alone and thinks can get better.''

Connecting to community and culture

Connecting with family, community and culture can play an important role in helping to manage suicidal thoughts if they happen again. It can give you strength and a chance to feel proud of yourself, your people, your language and your culture.

A good place to start is to have a person or group of people that you trust and who you can talk openly with. Different people can have different roles.

  • An Elder may assist you to connect or reconnect with community and culture.
  • Family and friends can be good people to talk with about how you are feeling. They can also be good when you just want to enjoy yourself and not talk about what has happened.
  • A counsellor might assist you to make sense of what has happened and help you develop strategies for managing tough times in the future.
  • Helping other people out from time to time can make you feel good about yourself.

A family member or friend has attempted suicide. What do I need to know?

When someone you care about attempts suicide, it is not uncommon to have lots of questions:

  • Are they ok?
  • Why didn’t they tell me?
  • Was there more I could have done?
  • What happens now?
  • What am I going to tell other people?
  • What can I do?

It is also common to go through lots of emotions that can change quickly, including fear, sadness and anger.

There is no wrong or right way to react. However, it is important to be aware of your own reactions and how they might affect the relationship you have with the person who has attempted suicide. 

If you feel your own reactions make it too difficult for you to listen and talk calmly, ask another family member or friend to provide support until you feel ready. This does not mean that you do not care about the person; it just means that you might also need some time of your own first.

Providing support 

The most important thing you can do for the person is to provide support without judging and to let them know you care.

A good start is saying something like: “I’m so glad you are OK. You don’t have to say anything, but I’m here when you are ready to talk and I want to help you get through this.”

There are a range of other things you can do.

  • Avoid asking too many questions about what has happened – sometimes sitting in silence with the person will give them comfort.
  • If you need some space to process what has happened, take the time you need.
  • Don’t avoid the person or the subject because you feel uncomfortable – this can reinforce feelings of guilt and embarrassment. Talking about what has happened is OK.
  • Remember it is not what you say, but how you say it. People notice body language.
  • If you don’t know how to respond, say so.

Talking immediately after the attempt

You may find that the person you care about is not able to talk about why they attempted suicide, particularly straight after it happened. If they begin to talk to you, the main thing is not to interrupt or take over the conversation. 

Trying to understand and see things through another person’s eyes can be difficult, particularly during times of stress. If you find it hard to understand their perspective, or disagree with their views, try to accept that is how they see things and move your focus to how you can support them now.

Your role at the hospital or health service

While the person is being treated by health professionals there are things that you can do to support them. Offer to assist them if and when they need to give information to health workers.

Talk separately to the treating doctor, nurses or hospital liaison officer to help you understand more about what is happening.

Get information from the health workers on:

  • what sort of support will be useful for your family member or friend when they go home
  • what you should do if you are worried about them at home and who you can contact for immediate help
  • who you can contact if you would like support for yourself or other family members or friends.
  • Sometimes staff will not be able to give you all the details you would like because of patient confidentiality.
  • If you are unsure about how this works in your situation, ask the staff to explain it to you and the person you are supporting, so that you both understand.

Providing support at home

It is important to talk with the person about what emotional and practical support they need.

It is also important to be honest and clear about what you are able to do. There might be other people or services that could help out with some things.

Emotional support might include:

  • being available to listen and support the person to talk about their feelings 
  • supporting them to find their own solutions to problems.

Practical support might include:

  • having them stay at your house or staying with them until you feel sure they are safe
  • helping with transport for appointments
  • cooking meals or looking after kids
  • providing money for expenses where appropriate or helping them get financial help from a service
  • offering to get information about services
  • offering to do things with them that they enjoy like going for a walk or to the movies.

 

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Supporting them to stay safe 

People who have attempted suicide will often be encouraged by health workers to prepare a safety plan. If they do not already have one you can encourage them to write one or help them to do it. A plan usually includes:

  • A list of the signs or signals that the person is getting stressed, overwhelmed or suicidal.
  • A list of strategies the person can use to get through the times when the urge to take their life is greatest.
  • A list of people they can talk to and services to contact, including 24 hour emergency services.

If you are worried they are thinking about suicide again

It is common for thoughts about suicide to return after a suicide attempt. Sometimes there are signs and sometimes there may be no signs. See below for the warning signs they may show.

If a person you know seems to be struggling, reach out and connect with them by starting a conversation. Showing that you care, could make a huge difference in their life.

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Looking after yourself and looking to the future 

Supporting a person who is suicidal, or has attempted suicide, or is bereaved by suicide, can generate a broad range of feelings. It can be challenging to do but also humbling and rewarding. At times it can be confusing, stressful and even overwhelming.

As with any other time of stress it is essential that you look after yourself emotionally and physically. Staying connected with your friends and family should also be a priority.

Crisis support

If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000. Other services include: