Tell Family About Suicide Attempt?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Back in December I hit a really bad depressive episode. My relationship with my girlfriend of 3 years wasn’t going well and work was highly stressful. I went into work that morning and got into a verbal altercation with a co-worker who never liked me. That was it, I was fed up with the world. I couldn’t take it anymore. So I went home and around 9pm locked myself in my room and attempted to overdose on my medication for diabetes and depression. No one in my immediate family knows except my roommate, a friend, and two of my sisters. I’ve asked them all to keep it a secret. It’s been four months since I’ve attempted to take my own life. But unfortunately it was not the first. I’ve had a history of one previous attempt when I was 16. Since then I’ve battled to with my past and brought a lot of ghosts to rest. However, depression still haunts me. I suspect it will for the rest of my life. I’m on medication now. It helps for sure other than the occasional blues. But I recently lost my job and so the search for survival is on. (I haven’t told my family this as well) I feel ashamed and embarrassed and a failure. I’m 38 and still single and I rent. I’m educated and skilled. Just completed my MBA. But I feel like I only bring concern and worry to my family. I also feel conflicted because they always say I never let them in. The problem is I don’t want to let them into this. I don’t want to drag them through what I did before.

A. Should you tell your family? That is a difficult question to answer. Will they understand? How will they react? Will they take it personally? One or several of your family members may blame themselves for your actions. They’re not likely at fault but sometimes family members lay the blame on themselves. Other questions to consider include do you have any expectations about their reaction? How would you feel if they began asking you questions about the incident? Would it bother you if they did? Would you feel comfortable answering those questions? How much are you willing to share? What is your relationship like with your family? You say you “never let them in.” Is this true and if so, is there a reason why not? These are all questions (and probably many others) that you may need to consider before you decide whether or not you should tell your family about the incident.

The issue of whether to tell your family is an important one but it’s secondary to the fact that you attempted suicide. You were stressed to the point where you actually took steps to end your life. This is a very serious matter. Life can be difficult but why did you turn to suicide as a way to deal with your problems? My concern is that you lack the necessary skills for coping and handling stress.

I am also concerned with the fact that you may be engaging in cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are essentially lies people believe about themselves that are not true. They are usually based on conventional wisdom. Unfortunately conventional wisdom is often wrong. People also tend to compare themselves to other people and come to a conclusion, usually negative, about themselves based on where they believe they “should” be in life. For instance, I suspect that you may subscribe to the idea that because you are 38, you should be married to the “woman of your dreams”, you should own a big, beautiful home and should have children by now. Because you have not achieved these things you may have concluded that there is something wrong with you thus leading you to feel depressed. You may even also believe that a person graduating with an MBA “should” be able to find a job and because you just lost yours, this is tantamount to being a “loser.”

My point is that maybe you’d like to have a job, own a home, be married, and so forth but because these things are not currently true it does not equate to you being a failure. Nor does it mean there is something fundamentally wrong with you. Maybe there are other explanations, beyond your control, as to why you’re not where you want to be in life.

For instance, with regard to being unemployed, the truth is that many people are losing their jobs through no fault of their own. The country is in a recession. Some political pundits suggest that we are practically in a Depression, much like during the late 1920′s and 1930’s. Furthermore, it’s been reported that college graduates are having an especially difficult time finding work because many companies are cutting back on hiring. My point here is that you should consider the very realistic possibility that unexpected economic conditions outside of your control make it difficult for you to find work.

You also mentioned that you are taking medication for depression but still have symptoms occasionally. In the very recent past you attempted suicide and that was not your first time. You did not mention whether or not you are in therapy. If you are not seeing a counselor please consider it. As I wrote earlier, my concern is that you lack basic problem solving skills. If you lack these skills you may be more likely to attempt suicide in the future. Suicide is not an effective problem solving skill. Studies show that most people who attempt suicide do not actually want to die. They want their psychological suffering to end and they don’t possess effective ways to deal with their pain. Counseling can greatly improve your coping skills. It can prevent you from resorting to the extreme measure of attempting suicide when you get stressed.

One last thing. It’s difficult to judge from your letter whether or not you are engaging in the kind of cognitive distortions I wrote about. If you are please know that you do not have to be “like” everyone else. Stop believing in the idea that you “should” be doing things at a certain age or time in your life. Be your own person. Live the way you want to live and try not to compare yourself to other people. You’ll be much happier in life if you focused on what’s appropriate for you and not what other people are doing. Please keep me posted on your progress.

Photo

 

 

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Apr 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Tell Family About Suicide Attempt?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/04/13/tell-family-about-suicide-attempt/