Why does someone attempt suicide?
It might be helpful to understand the phrase “suicide attempt” is misleading. What we call a suicide attempt is often not an attempt to die, but an attempt to communicate and/or an attempt to solve a problem.
Suicide knows no boundaries – it doesn’t care if you’re a man or woman, straight or gay, Catholic or atheist, black or white, rich or poor, young or old. Suicidal ideation can affect anyone for any number of reasons. There is no one cause.
So why do people attempt suicide? Rarely is the answer “to die.” And while suicidal behavior is too complex for one simple answer, we do know that often people attempt suicide to end the tremendous amount of pain they are experiencing.
One thing remains certain: if you are feeling suicidal, you do not need to feel ashamed. You are not a failure, you are not weak, and you are not a burden. But you are experiencing tremendous pain, sometimes to the point of numbness or debilitation. And even with this tremendous pain, you’ve kept going. You are very brave and incredibly strong for doing so; and for choosing, at least for this moment, to keep living.
Will I give them the idea by asking about suicide?
No. You will not give them the idea. If they are feeling so bad that you’ve noticed a change in behavior or mood, they’ve probably already thought about suicide themselves. If anything, we know that asking someone if they are feeling suicidal can relieve the pressure they’re feeling for a time. And sometimes just a few moments of relief is all a person needs to be able to make a safer choice.
Will I offend them by asking if they’re suicidal?
We don’t know your friend or loved one, so we can’t answer that honestly. But what we do know is that asking a direct question about suicidal intent can lower a person’s anxiety level and deter suicidal behavior. It encourages them to vent some of the pent-up emotions they are feeling by talking openly about their problems.
And just remember, your friend or loved one can only be offended by the question if they are still alive.
Is there anything I shouldn’t say or do?
Yes. Don’t argue or debate about how they “should” feel. Don’t minimize what they are going through by say things like, “It’s not that bad” or “It will feel better tomorrow.” Don’t offer advice or what’s worked for you in the past. Don’t judge or blame them for how they are feeling. Don’t say things like, “Why are you telling me this?” or “How could you do this to me?” Avoid sentences like, “I don’t believe you’ll really kill yourself” or “You’ll never go through with it.” And finally, avoid saying things like, “Your life is so great, why would you feel like this?” or “What’s wrong with you? I think you’re really overreacting.”
Now, before you worry that you will accidentally say something like the above, there are two things to keep in mind:
First, if you goof up, fix it. Just tell your loved one that what you said came out wrong. Then tell them what you meant to say.
And second, the easiest way to avoid doing any of the above is to think about what would be most helpful to you if you’ve just called a friend and said, “I had a truly awful day today. I’m feeling really sad about it.”
Would you want your friend to say things like, “Me too! Let me tell you all about my day!” or “It’s really not that bad, I think you’re overreacting.”
Or would you rather your friend say, “Tell me what happened. I’m here for you.”
Is it really that big of a deal – do I have to be this serious about it?
Yes and yes. Any hints that a person is feeling suicidal should not be taken lightly. And do not believe the myth that people who talk about suicide won’t actually kill themselves. If someone is talking about suicide or displaying some of the warning signs listed above, they may be at risk.
Something to keep in mind is that more people die each year in the United States by suicide than by homicides or car accidents. Suicide is a serious public health concern that is everyone’s business.
Is suicide a selfish decision?
Absolutely not. When someone is feeling suicidal, they often think they are a burden on the people in their life. They sometimes think their friends and loved ones would be “better off without them.” And therefore, in a twist of logic, they incorrectly assume they would be taking better care of their friends and family if they were no longer alive.
If you’re reading this because you are worried someone in your life is suicidal, then you know none of that is true. But the suicidal person doesn’t know that because they are blinded by their pain. They are not being selfish, they are simply unable to see other choices.
Remember, a person’s choice to die by suicide is in response to him experiencing an intense amount of pain. He can’t see other choices and he’s convinced, incorrectly, that he is a burden to his friends and loved ones. He doesn’t understand if he chooses to end his pain by ending his life, the pain will just be beginning for the people he leaves behind.
Why can’t they just “fix it” and move on?
Stop for a moment and try to imagine how much pain a person must feel to decide to end their life. How overwhelming, all encompassing, and bleak the feelings they have must be to lead them to feel like dying is their only choice. Now consider for a moment if someone would willingly want to feel that way.
If it was as easy as just “fixing it,” don’t you think the person in pain would have done so already?
But it’s not that easy. A suicidal person is not choosing to feel the way they do – in fact, they probably feel quite powerless with their emotions. Please keep in mind the way they feel is not their fault. An outsider might look in and think, “I know exactly how they can make it better” or “If they just try ____ it will all be fine again,” but it’s never that simple. Accidentally implying or purposefully telling someone who is suicidal that there is a simple solution or that they should “snap out of it” could potentially isolate them further.
Sometimes people can feel exasperated, frustrated, mad, or at a complete loss when their loved one is suicidal. We want the suicidal person to feel magically better. And it’s upsetting and confusing when they don’t feel better, especially if we are trying as much as we can to help.
It’s normal for you to feel that way. So imagine how it would feel if someone said to you, “It’s not that big of deal that your closest friend is suicidal, you should just get over it.” You’d be a lot less likely to open up to that person again about your worries, right?
So be patient with your loved one, and be forgiving of yourself if you feel frustrated. And when you do feel upset or exasperated, or sick with worry, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Remember, our crisis lines are not only for people who are feeling suicidal. You can call us too.
Can they get better?
Yes. With a bit of help, time, and hope, people can recover from suicidal ideation.
Can I make them better?
The simple answer is no, you can’t make them better. That’s their job and we can’t take that away from them. But you can help them get better. They have to make their own progress on their own timetable. But you can listen, ask them how they are feeling, show them you care, and help empower them to choose to live.
Do you have any suggestions for further reading online or local resources?
Absolutely! There’s a tremendous amount of information available online regarding suicide awareness and prevention. In terms of local resources, it will depend a lot on where you live. But the suggestions below will help get you started:
Other Samaritan Centers:
The Samaritans (based in the UK – where it all began!)
Samaritans of Boston
Samaritans of Fall River and New Bedford
Samaritans of Merrimack Valley
Samaritans of New Hampshire
Samaritans of New York
Samaritans of Rhode Island
Additional Local and Regional Resources:
Cape and Islands Suicide Prevention Coalition
Cape and Islands National Alliance on Mental Illness
Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention
Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health Suicide Prevention Program
American Association of Suicidology
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
Be mindful when you are researching that there is a lot of misinformation online too. If you ever have any questions about anything you’ve read, we’re always here to help.
I’m feeling overwhelmed because I am so worried about my loved one – what should I do?
Worrying that you may lose someone you love to suicide can be overwhelming. It’s normal that you’re feeling that way. But you do not have to face this alone. Call our crisis lines. We’re here to listen.