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How To Help Suicide Attempt Survivors, From Those Who Have Been There

By Kimberly Zapata

The first time I tried to take my life, I was 17 years old. No one knew. I wrote a note and made a plan, bought a bottle of pills, and ingested them en masse, swallowing two, three, and four at a time.

While I became ill, spending the next 36 hours throwing up bile and blood, I didn’t dare say why. I feigned illness, telling my mother it must be food poisoning.

She had a remedy, of course: Sit up, eat Saltines, and drink chicken broth, though I assured her that I couldn’t; motion made me queasy. So she let me—and the real issue—rest, handing me a throw blanket and plastic salad bowl. I wanted to say more. In my heart, I knew I needed to say more…but I couldn’t. Shame paralyzed me. I felt like a disappointment, failure, and fraud, and those emotions lingered for more than a decade.

It took me 10 years, more than a dozen doctors, several medications, and a second attempt on my life to truly recover. To “wake up alive.”

I am not alone. While tens of thousands of people die by suicide each year, the American Association of Suicidology estimates a quarter million more become “suicide survivors.” This means hundreds of people “wake up” each and every day—people like Jeanine Hoff, the founder of Where Is The Sunshine, an early intervention and peer support nonprofit for mental health. And yet there are few resources, for survivors and their families. “After my hospitalization… I was handed a sheet of paper with a list of psychiatrists and therapists in my area,” Hoff tells OprahMag.com. “There was no wraparound or follow-up care provided. I became responsible for my own recovery and treatment plan, which was daunting given that I wasn’t mentally or emotionally well.”

So what can you do to support someone who has made an attempt on their life? Dr. Christine Moutier, the chief medical officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, says the best way to help your loved one is to first help yourself.

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