First off, before we talk about surviving attempted suicide, we’ll establish a couple of things:
- If you’re having thoughts of suicide and need to reach out, there’s a list of crisis resources here.
- No need to worry about me; I’m not currently suicidal.
I recently saw a post by Elizabeth of Life. Love. Bipolar. on the topic of suicide attempts and the way people only talk about a certain kind of regret. She mentioned Kevin Hines, a well-known motivational speaker who survived a suicide attempt by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. He describes feeling regret as soon as he jumped. Not everyone feels that way, though; for some people, the regret comes from not dying.
According to PsychAlive, 29 people have survived jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, and they have all expressed regret at trying to take their lives. In an interview with The Guardian, Australia’s national mental health commissioner said that in a study in that country the majority of people who have attempted suicide “report having this profound realization during their attempt that they want to live.”
That’s great that some people are experiencing this kind of regret and able to shift focus to wanting to live, but, like Elizabeth pointed out, we also need to talk about the fact that for some people surviving attempted suicide, the regret is about not dying. While this is less talked about, it’s equally valid, and those stories deserve to be heard as well. There needs to be room in the conversation for all viewpoints, regardless of how uncomfortable they may be to hear about.
I’ve had four suicide attempts, plus a few in hospital that I don’t remember. After each of them, my regret was not dying. I don’t recall any ambivalence at the time around living vs. dying; I was very much set on dying. Nothing magically changed after the attempt. My life didn’t get instantly better, and I didn’t get well anytime soon. If anything, being hospitalized initially made things worse.
The role of impulsivity
In a study published in Psychiatry Investigation, it was determined that 48% of suicide attempt survivors had made an impulsive attempt. Impulsive suicide attempts were associated with lower intensity of suicidal ideation and less intent to die. People who were non-impulsive were more likely to identify psychiatric symptoms as the primary reason for their attempt.
I suspect that the more impulsive the attempt, the more likely it would be that a person would later regret it. My attempts were not impulsive. They were planned, and I tried to resist the thoughts of suicide as long as I could solely because I was concerned about hurting my family.
There’s more on this issue in the post Suicidality: Impulsivity vs. Planning.
Relationship with death
I’m not sure if it’s the depression or something else, but I continue to have a bit of an odd relationship with death. I go on living because it’s status quo, not because I have any particular wish to be alive. The thought of dying doesn’t bother me at all. That’s not to say that I’m suicidal. While there are times when, because of my illness, I do wish to die, entirely separate from that there’s also a sort of baseline undercurrent of being okay with death. It has nothing to do with a wish to die. It’s more a sense that the happy times of my life are behind me, and death is just a natural part of the human cycle of existence.
All experiences are welcome
I think that it’s important that the dialogue around suicide incorporates the broad spectrum of experiences people have in relation to it. We don’t need more taboos around what is okay or not okay to say.
Sometimes, the voices of suicide attempt survivors are left out of the conversation entirely. But we’re here; we exist, and we’re not a monolithic group who all have the same experiences. All different experiences related to suicide are equally valid.
If you’ve considered or attempted suicide in the past, what sort of relationship did you have with regret?
The Straight Talk on Suicide page has crisis and safety planning resources, along with info on suicide-related topics from the perspective of someone who’s been there.