Myth#6 If you survive a suicide attempt you didn’t really want to die

Trigger warningthis blog talks frankly about suicide, if you may find this content triggering, please do not read any further.
Even if you’re not triggered by this blog, please be aware you may find it distressing.
Please use your usual support network or contact a national agency such as The Samaritans on 116123 for support.
Unfortunately, I have made a number of attempts on my life. Each and every one, I fully intended to die. Anyone who attempts suicide will have different reasons, for me, I was seriously mentally unwell. Depression stripped me of feeling human and created the perfect environment for intrusive thoughts and beliefs about the world being better off without me, I believed I was going to feel hopeless and helpless and it was so unbearable, death by suicide was the only option. Anorexia caused my brain to be devoid of the nutrients that it needed to attempt to differentiate fact from fiction.
With the active debate about assisted suicide, there are people who do not meet the criteria for a mental illness but believe their life or situation is not worth living, they may live with a chronic illness or permanent disability, they believe death by suicide is a rational decision to make but are unable to carry it out themselves and ask seek assistance – I’m not here to debate the rights and wrong of this, suffice to say, people with a desire to end their life may or may not fulfill the criteria to be diagnosed with a mental illness.
It’s important to remember that suicidal intent isn’t black and white. Multiple factors combine to measure someone’s intent, include: timing, expectation of fatality, preparations, purpose of action, medical rescuability and premeditation. Beck’s Suicide Intent Scale has been found to be useful in predicting death by suicide.
Whether suicide is completed on not, no-one but the person themselves really knows what’s gone on, unless they have been able to accurately articulate their thoughts and feelings prior to the event.
Some methods are more likely to result in a completed suicide than others but when ill it is not always possible to this logically about what method would be “best” and it usually depends on availability of resources.
(I did tell you this was going to be a frank blog!)
Some stats show that those in the medical profession, (including doctors, nurses, dentists and vets) and those in agriculture are at high risk of completed suicide due to their knowledge relating to suicide methods as well as access to means (drugs and/or firearms). People without precise knowledge and/or access to means will have no less intent but their “choice” or method may be less likely to result in completed suicide.
There are also a number of reasons why males are more likely to die by suicide than females but this does not mean than a female who survives a suicide attempt did not intend to die.
I can only talk about my experience of surviving suicide attempts but having spoken to other people who have survived, I know our story share similarities.
Waking up, coming round or coming to the realisation that an attempt has been “unsuccessful” brings up a number of emotions: (please note, the language I’m using is intended to emphasise the feelings surrounding suicide, I do not intend to offend or belittle the feelings)

  • Disappointment – “I have not “achieved” what I wanted”. Feeling even more of a failure than I did before – this is a very dark place.
  • Fear – “What are people going to think?” And “I’m going to have to live with what I’ve done” whether it’s ongoing physical effects of the attempt (e.g. broken bones, liver damage) or now living with the mental scarring/pain of the attempt.
  • Guilt – about having not completed suicide (continuing to believe it’s the correct action to take)
  • Shame – for the “fuss” or worry caused to those around. My attempts were often linked to guilt about taking up NHS resources – when my attempt was “unsuccessful”, I was taking even more resources.
  • Relief – after one attempt in particular, it felt like I’d woken up. This was a particularly violent attempt, no one could understand how I’d survived – but I did and I saw this as quite a powerful sign that I should be alive and I had a renewed desire to get through my illness.

It can be difficult to admit feeling relieved, it may not be that the person didn’t want to complete suicide, it’s likely that a new perspective has been found after the event.
People who show warning signs and/or attempt suicide need to be taken seriously.
It is not ok for professionals to say “we can’t save them all” (they used to teach this at medical school to relieve the guilt if a patient completed suicide). I’m not saying professionals should feel guilty, I’m saying nonchalance is inappropriate when it comes to preventable death from any illness, mental illness included.
Nor is it ok for professionals to say “this is their normal behaviour” and ignore warning signs of suicide. (Seriously, I’ve had a psychiatrist deny me support because they thought I was “just attention seeking” – sadly, the lack of support led to causing irreversible damage to my body in an attempt to take my life.)
I was plagued by suicidal ideation (thoughts and plans about suicide) for years. Even when in active recovery from depression and anorexia, I continued to keep suicide on the back burner – it was always an options if things got too bad. This may sound strange to some people, it will not sound strange to anyone who has gone through the pain and torture of mental illness.
However, I could only break free from mental illness once I made a commitment and said to myself “suicide is not an option”. To those still on the brink, keeping suicide as an option, may feel “safe” but you will never experience how freeing it is to finally say “I’m choosing to live, there IS a way through and I AM going to find it!”
Breaking free and turning your back on suicide as an option does not diminish the severity of your pain – it is about choosing life over an otherwise grey existence.
It is also important to recognise that people whose behavior is risky but they do not intent to die are experiencing severe mental pain. Suicidal or para-suicidal behaviour should not lead to feelings of shame, mental illness leads to people behaving out of character.
With this blog, I have wanted to speak openly about death by suicide, just as we should speak openly about death by other means. People who have attempted suicide and survived should not be discriminated against by medical professionals – I hope by speaking out, I’m chipping away at the taboo and stigma surrounding the issue.

6 thoughts on “Myth#6 If you survive a suicide attempt you didn’t really want to die

    1. Thank you – I don’t feel brave. I almost feel a bit like I take the easy option by talking about it behind a computer. But I’m doing what I can!

  1. I recognise every one of your reactions to a failed suicide attempt, I’ve been there.
    I now class myself as being in recovery thanks to the correct medication for me, ECT and a few years of therapy. Having been very unwell for a long time with major depression and ptsd in and out of psychiatric hospitals both as a voluntary patient and under section life now feels good. I salute you for sharing your thoughts and experiences only this way can misapprehension and stigma be reduced.

    1. Thank you for reading, for sharing a little of your story and for your comment. I’ve been having an odd experience on Twitter over the last couple of days, I just wish we could all share our experiences openly, non-judgmentally and without expectation. Thank you for your comment x

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