Suicide Attempt Survivors: Yes, We Do Exist

Suicide attempt survivors: yes we do exist - graphic of a phoenix and a semicolon

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s also National Suicide Prevention Week and National Suicide Prevention Month (that’s a lot of awareness!). I thought it would be a good time to talk about suicide attempt survivors.

The term “suicide survivor” isn’t generally used for people who’ve lived through suicide attempts. Rather, it’s the term used for someone who’s lost a loved one to suicide. It seems like a bit of a misnomer to me, although looking it up just now the similar terms “survivors of homicide” and “survivors of homicide victims” are also used.

Historically, it doesn’t seem like much attention has been paid to suicide attempt survivors (i.e. people who’ve attempted suicide). The American Association of Suicidology announced that in 2014, they “took the historic step of approving a membership division for people who have been suicidal and their supporters.” That struck me as odd; how is something so obvious somehow groundbreaking?

Available resources

It’s not hard to find resources online, but not quite as many as I would have expected.

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center has a booklet for after an attempt with information for family members following a loved one’s attempt. The Mental Health Commission of Canada also has a post-attempt toolkit.

The Australian organizations The Black Dog Institute and the Sax Institute have both published reports on how to provide effective care following a suicide attempt. has a peer support service called Connections. They have a directory of volunteer peer supporters, and people looking for support can reach out to anyone in the directory. While I certainly support the idea of peer support, I’m dubious about the Connections model. The Mental Health Crisis Angels peer support service on Twitter seems to have a much better setup.

Where’s the mental illness?

I’ve noticed that suicide prevention organizations don’t necessarily focus that much on the mental illness aspect. I’m guessing there might be some sort of deliberate choice or philosophical stance behind that. I haven’t looked into it, but as someone with a mental illness who has attempted suicide, I think it’s problematic when mental illness is taken out of suicide. Granted, not all people who are suicidal have a mental illness, but it still seems too important to leave out.

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline has an attempt survivors page with recommendations for people who’ve lived through a suicide attempt. I found it odd, though, that it suggested seeing a therapist, but made no mention of accessing medical/psychiatric treatment. The Lifeline for Attempt Survivors doesn’t talk about getting psychiatric treatment either. It seems a bit irresponsible not to bring it up when talking about post-suicide attempt supports.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has an after an attempt page. It said: “While you may still have challenges, many people who survive a suicide attempt begin to see those challenges in a new light, and realize that there are people available to support them.” I feel like there’s a myth out there that when people survive a suicide attempt, a magical switch is flipped and they see things differently. And while that’s the case for some people, like suicide prevention activist Kevin Hines, for others (like me), the only regret is about not dying.

Suicide attempt survivor stories

Aside from lots of great mental health blogs here on WordPress, there were a couple of interesting sites I came across while researching for this post.

The site Live Through This is run by photographer and suicide attempt survivor advocate Dese’rae L. Stage, and contains photographs and interviews with attempt survivors.

The site Reasons to Go on Living is run by two Canadian mental health researchers. It shares the stories of people who’ve attempted suicide. The site itself is pretty old-school basic in terms of appearance, but it’s a great project.

What’s known about suicide attempt survivors

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 90% of suicide attempters don’t go on to eventually die by suicide. The article cites a 2002 literature review finding that about 23% attempt again and survive, while about 70% don’t attempt again. At the same time, though, previous attempts are among the strongest risk factors for future attempts.

The Harvard article also states that “This relatively good long-term survival rate is consistent with the observation that suicidal crises are often short-lived, even if there may be underlying, more chronic risk factors present that give rise to these crises.” I’m not sure how I feel about this. I certainly agree that acute crises are time-limited, somewhat along the lines of the way individual panic attacks are time-limited. The analogy isn’t perfect, but the fact that acute crises are relatively short-lived doesn’t change the effect of chronic, or chronically recurring, suicidality on things like quality of life.

And of course, we can’t forget about suicide stigma. In a study by Rimkeviciene and colleagues (2015), suicide attempt survivors reported hearing from others that they didn’t “seriously want to die”, and their attempts were a form of manipulation in order to “get attention”. Some were even denied mental health treatment because they were labelled as attention-seeking. The most common form of discrimination they faced from others was avoidance, including minimization of the suicidality.

Attempters – we’re here

There really isn’t a specific point to this post aside from wanting to say something on Suicide Prevention Day, but I think the attempters can sometimes get a bit lost in the shuffle when it comes to suicide awareness and prevention. And we’re here, we exist and what we regret might not be what you expect. And although it’s not considered correct to say, I’ll always view my attempts as failed. Que sera sera.

Straight talk on suicide - graphics of phoenix and semicolon

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.

28 thoughts on “Suicide Attempt Survivors: Yes, We Do Exist”

  1. I always find suicide survival stories fascinating. It is interesting how a great number of them regret trying suicide and embrace life, but I have also read a number of accounts where the person was pissed that it didn’t work and they were still alive lol. You don’t hear much about those though because I guess they don’t sound very inspiring.

  2. I think they are quick to state that a crisis is short-lived, well duh? But the chronic underlying condition is there to stay. I still think it is a topic that is not easily discussed.

  3. My thoughts about suicide survivors, I am one of them. The first time did not teach me much. Suicide was not the problem it was that thing that was underlying it, esteem, self-worth.
    It was not taken care of after that attempt because I was planning to do it again. It was only after several times of in hospital treatments that I was able to deal with all the toxic mess that was in me. I took of all that and thoughts of suicide eventually lifted.

  4. It does seem strange to leave mental illness out of the discussion. People can have short, acute mental illnesses or longterm chronic, the same as physical illnesses. I’d think that being suicidal would be a symptom of at least a short-term mental illness. With the only exception being someone with a terminal physical illness.🤷🏼‍♀️

    Suicide is a difficult topic. I believe we should all have the choice but I don’t want to encourage someone in crisis who may find happiness once the crisis has passed.

    Not much point to my comment either🙄😂

      1. Hmmm… I keep thinking of mental & physical being equal and so the “pain” must be coming from somewhere. I know that mental health doesn’t receive the same level of care as physical health. Where if someone had a physical pain that wasnt easily identified, there might be testing or further diagnostic investigation. Mental pain isn’t given the same consideration.
        I hope someday they are treated equally.

        1. Although that gets into issues of where the line gets drawn in terms of pathology and the normal spectrum of human experience, and what inner experiences should or shouldn’t be medicalized.

  5. Great post, Ashley. Suicide is such a difficult topic. When my friend took his life recently, many of my other friends who knew him were shocked because he always seemed like such a happy guy, he was always smiling. I think that’s why raising awareness about suicide and suicidal thoughts is so important – just because you seem happy, doesn’t mean you are.

    I’ve read some stuff in the past, too, that suicidal ideations are more common than many people think. It’s just such a taboo thing to talk about. I’ve never attempted, but I get ideations a lot. Nowadays, I try to just look at them as fleeting things that pass by.

  6. There is so much misinformation and misunderstanding around this very complex topic. I appreciate the resources and shared insights in this post. The lack of understanding, and sometimes the compassion for, reasons a person might feel ending their life is the only option, is both perplexing and upsetting. It only complicates and already confusing experience and can further isolate someone in pain. It is so important to keep this in awareness and to recognize, as you clearly say, this doesn’t mean the person has decided it was a mistake or that all is now well. Our society has such a tendency to “not see” what is uncomfortable to look at.

  7. I recently got a tatto of a semicolon on the middle finger of my right hand while I was in Idaho this week with my shamanic healing sister/teacher to have a permanent reminder of that moment I found hope. 9 years ago on 11/12/11 I attempted suicide. What a journey of healing I have walked. I will be writing a proper post about it all soon, my week there was 100% transformational. I’ve learned so much, no regrets. Everything I have been brought to, God has helped me through. I look at that moment 9 years ago as my gift of desperation. Every single thing changed from that one decision and hope has been steadily growing everyday since. My pain and the scars they have left are vitalto my peace, joy and contentment today. I embrace all of it❤❤❤ thank you for highlighting this my friend ❤

      1. 15 months ago when I reached out and started healing in the shamanic way, a part of my soul was retrieved and from then on I’ve been able to take steps to integrate my entire being into a state of healing. Taking on the rold of a shaman myself is my purpose, why God made me the I am. We will all be healing from the pain of being human throughout our entire journey. Change is constant and cyclical. Once that can be embraced, resistance is lessened and each part of the experience can be viewed as a series of lessons. The timing of me completing the “Wounded Healer” interview for you and my own walk to heal those wounds to now be equipped to heal others as a shaman is an honorable full circle moment for me😊

  8. I appreciate this take on suicide attempt survivors Ashley as it’s not something we read about very often. However, it was something I came across often when working as a mental health nurse, many patients were angry at having survived and eventually went on to die by suicide.

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