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Use this brief fact sheet to help start a conversation with a Veteran who may be in distress.Download
Start the Conversation: Talking to a Veteran After a Suicide Attempt
When a Veteran you love attempts suicide, it is also a traumatic event for those who know and love them. Although emotions can vary from person to person, anger, guilt, confusion, and anxiety are common among those close to the Veteran. It’s easy to worry that your loved one might attempt suicide again.
Opening up a line of communication between you and a Veteran loved one can help ease your fears — and perhaps their own concerns as well. By starting the conversation, you can let the Veteran know you care and that you are there to help them on the path to recovery.
How to Talk to a Veteran After a Suicide Attempt
When your loved one comes home after treatment, you may wonder, “What happens next?” Immediately after hospitalization, family members and friends respond in a variety of ways. Some choose to distance themselves and try to forget what happened; others hover and constantly check in on their loved one’s physical and mental well-being. Ultimately, it is not your responsibility to keep your loved one safe — but you can help. You play an essential role in aiding the survivor in creating a safe and effective recovery plan.
You can start showing support for a Veteran by allowing them to share their experience without judgment. Phrases such as the following can be helpful prompts in creating a safe space for the Veteran to recover:
- "I’m sorry you’ve been feeling so terrible. I’m very glad you’re still here with me/us."
- "I care about you and am here for you. Remember that you can always talk to me if you need to."
- "I want to help you however I can. Tell me what I can do to support you."
You may also want to consider removing access to lethal means such as firearms, drugs, and alcohol to help keep the Veteran safe.
Working with a Suicide Prevention Coordinator to create a safety plan can help you prepare for situations when a Veteran is feeling overwhelmed by negative emotions or is in crisis. Use VA’s Resource Locator to find a Suicide Prevention Coordinator in your area who can help you customize a safety plan that is right for the Veteran in your life.
If at any point in your conversation the Veteran reveals they are planning to seriously harm or to kill themselves, immediately call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, dial 911, or take the Veteran to an emergency room.
Do’s and Don’ts for After an Attempt
- Remove objects that could aid in self-harm, such as pills, knives, razors, or firearms. Keep medications locked away or give them out only as the Veteran needs them if the risk of suicide by overdose is high.
- Seek support and information. Following a loved one’s suicide attempt, seeking support and information about suicide and mental health from a professional can be beneficial for you and for the Veteran.
- Learn the warning signs of a Veteran who may be in suicidal crisis.
- Don’t ignore the fact that a suicide attempt was made. It’s important that you acknowledge what happened and help the Veteran feel connected.
- Don’t focus all your attention on the Veteran in crisis and ignore other family members.
- Don’t hover over their every action. It’s OK to let the person you care about have some personal space. In fact, acting like a babysitter or detective can make the Veteran feel like a burden.
How to Help a Veteran Who Is Recovering From a Suicide Attempt
There are many resources at your disposal to get help for someone who is recovering from attempted suicide. The following are effective initial actions you can take to help a Veteran heal:
Seek professional help. Call the Veterans Crisis Line for immediate, confidential support or use the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Resource Locator to find resources, treatment facilities, and VA Suicide Prevention Coordinators in your area.
- Follow up on treatment. If the doctor prescribes medication, make sure the Veteran takes it as directed. If you notice certain symptoms aren’t improving or are getting worse, contact the Veteran’s physician and/or therapist immediately. Be aware that each individual is different, and it typically takes time and patience to find the right medication or therapy.
- Be available and encouraging. Veterans who have attempted suicide may think they’ll never recover, so they’ll need someone in their life who can provide consistent reminders that things can and will get better.
- Encourage healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating well, getting a good night’s sleep, and spending time in nature. Exercising can also be a great way to help relieve stress and promote mental health.
- Contact a VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator to help create a safety plan. VA’s network of Suicide Prevention Coordinators can work with Veterans and their families to devise a set of steps or rules to follow if the Veteran reaches a suicidal crisis point. The plan will identify any triggers that may contribute to suicidal thoughts, such as an anniversary of a loss, use of drugs or alcohol, or relationship-related stress. The safety plan will also include the Veteran’s emergency contact numbers, including for their doctor and therapist, as well as family and friends who can provide immediate help in a crisis. Creating a supplemental list that details what you can do to help the Veteran if they are in crisis can also be an important component to preventing suicide.