How to Help Suicidal Sister

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Today my sister tried to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Before she did, she sent me a message telling me how bad her life was, and that her three kids means everything to her and she tried the best she could. She has liver disease, IBS, and heart problems which are unknown at this time. She has been going through a lot. But we all tried to help her. She lived with my mom for 2 1/2 years, but couldn’t stand my step dad so she left and started staying with a friend; that didn’t work out as well then moved in with my dad which lasted about 3 months, then decided that she had to try and make it on her own with her three kids, and started living in a hotel.

My parents had very strict rules, only to try and better herself, and she didn’t like those rules apparently. She converted to another religion two years ago, which is fine with me but my parents never really accepted it because she had changed so much, and not for the better. I’m not saying that’s the reasoning behind all of her unusual behavior, but anymore, I don’t know what to think. She gave her eldest daughters father custody, who was abusive to my sister in the past…which didn’t make any sense to me.

Seeing her today at the hospital broke my heart, and I don’t know how to help her. We’ve always been close, except for the past two years when she converted. She pushed her family aside, and only came to us when she needed something. Money, a babysitter, a place to live, etc. I want to help her, but don’t know how. She was admitted into the psych ward at a local hospital and when she came to, after trying to kill herself all she wanted was her religious book, which she had stuffed in her shirt when we found her. Her three children were with her at the time, and they’re not really sure what happened, but they were traumatized by the whole ordeal. What can I do as a sister to help her and her three children? I thank God we found her in time, but what if next time we’re not so lucky?

Feeling Helpless

A: I’m so sorry your family is going through such a hard time. Your sister has had more than her share of problems in life. Her conversion may have been her attempt to find some clear rules for living her life that would give her a structure and some safety. I’m glad you can support her in that choice.

The kids need you and your family. A mother’s attempt to suicide, as you pointed out, is traumatizing. I hope you are getting some therapy for them and for yourself. You and your parents need some guidance about how to handle the situation. The kids need you to handle these events well. Meanwhile, therapy that includes your sister, you, and your parents is more likely to be effective than sending her off for individual treatment. She needs to know that you are all there for her. You all need to know how best to help her.

From what you wrote, I think your sister is worn out and the rest of the family is at their wits’ ends, having tried everything they already know how to do. Therapy can provide a safe place where everyone can talk and be heard. An experienced therapist will be able to provide you with referrals to resources you may not know about as well as some practical advice about how to move forward.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Aug 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). How to Help Suicidal Sister. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/08/20/how-to-help-suicidal-sister/