Get information and advice - Sibling FAQs - My sister is suicidal - what can I do?
My sister, who has a severe mental illness, has tried to commit suicide twice and I’m scared she’ll succeed one day. Is there anything I can do?
Our factsheet How to support someone who is suicidal has lots information to help you.
You probably know your sister well and it is therefore quite likely that you are aware when her mood changes or if she starts thinking suicidal thoughts. These ‘warning signs’ are really important in letting you know it's time to intervene and get help.
Changes or behaviours that may indicate a personal crisis for someone are:
- sudden changes in their usual pattern of relating to others
- withdrawing from family and friends or not wanting to be left alone
- not wanting to be touched
- loss of interest in usual activities
- loss of humour, or unusual change to acting the clown
Marked personal changes:
- decline in school or other work, disinterest in studies or future
- apathy about dress or appearance and self neglect
- changes that suggest depression or other mental health problems, e.g. lack of concentration, changes in sleep pattern, delusions or hallucinations
- sudden happiness after lengthy period of depression
Making final arrangements:
- making a will
- giving away prized possessions
- organising own funeral
Self-harm and suicide attempts:
- marked weight increase or decrease
- increased use of alcohol or drugs
- self-mutilation such as cigarette burns or cutting oneself
- having made previous suicide attempt(s) is one of the most important and reliable indicators of risk.
Verbal expressions direct or indirect:
- “I wish I were dead”
- “You won’t have to bother with me any more”
- “I think dead people must be happier than when they were alive”
- “I’d like to go to sleep and never wake up”.
What can you do?
When your sister is feeling suicidal it may be tempting to tell her what to do and offer advice and solutions. You may feel like sharing your own experiences and telling her how it feels for you or you may try and cheer her up. However, you can help the most by just listening to what she has to say.
Often she will be trying desperately to make sense of her situation or to change it in some way. She may feel isolated and unheard. By showing your concern and caring enough to become involved you can help her to express her concerns and feelings.
Try to see the world as she sees it, to ‘stand in her shoes’. Seek to understand and validate her perspective, without judging, criticising or blaming.
- Let her know that you care about her and that she is not alone
- If there is immediate danger, stay with her, or have someone else stay with her
- Get professional help for her and find support for yourself
- Offer your support in finding alternatives to whatever is causing her to be so distressed
- Remove all available means to suicide
People with a serious mental illness can be at a high risk of suicide. Treatment in a psychiatric hospital does not necessarily decrease the likelihood of suicide. Research has shown that often people on the start of the climb to recovery show an increased risk of suicide. This increased risk of suicide is thought to occur when treatment starts taking action and the person begins to realise what has happened to them. This increased risk occurs up to four weeks after being discharged from hospital.
Some treatments can act to prevent suicidality in people with mental illness. Both lithium therapy and treatment with the antipsychotic clozapine have been found to reduce the likelihood of suicide. Lithium is sometimes given to patients with bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. Clozapine is given to people with psychotic symptoms suffering from illnesses such as schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. You could enquire about the possible use of these drugs if the suicidal tendencies continue.
Its also important to get support for yourself so make use of the Siblings Network to share your feelings and experiences. You might want to talk to others on the RethinkTalk siblings forum, set up a local sibling support group,or join an existing support group so you can meet other people who can share your experiences and support.
Find out more in our How to help someone who is suicidal factsheet
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