How do I help a friend whose son attempted suicide?
November 16, 2010 7:25 PM   Subscribe

An old friend of mine's 18 year old son just attempted to kill himself with a shotgun blast to the head.

He was unsuccessful but managed to blow off most of his face. They are anticipating at least a year of plastic surgery. It seems he has lost most of his vision. (backstory: he was a Russian orphan and had significant emotional problems which were never resolved.) If any of you have any ideas/suggestions/strategies for the poor boy or his parents I would be most grateful. I'm crying writing this post and I don't cry often. Thanks.
posted by mrhappy to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Do you live near them? The best thing you can do as a friend of the family is to offer concrete ways in which you can support the parents so they can be by their boy's side in the months to come. If you are able to, offer to take care of tasks like bringing them dinner, picking up groceries, and helping with laundry. Even driving them to grief counseling can take the overwhelming burden of dealing with what has just happened down to a manageable degree. My thoughts are with you, the boy, and his parents. I hope he finds peace.
posted by patronuscharms at 7:35 PM on November 16, 2010 [9 favorites]

Very very sad. Here's some places that may be able to help: Trauma Survivors Network, Suicide Prevention Lifeline, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It just so happens that this Saturday is National Survivors of Suicide Day. A teleconference will be shown here. I will keep him and his family in my prayers.
posted by MsKim at 7:38 PM on November 16, 2010

What a terrible, tragic situation; I'm truly sorry for the whole family. How wonderful that you care about them and want to do what you can in a situation where you must all feel so helpless.

The only advice I have is to think not only of your friends' immediate needs, but also of more long-term ones. I would imagine that right now this family has many friends and relatives rallying around them, looking to provide what support they can, and that's certainly a good thing - but all too often it drops away as days, weeks, months progress. Those parents will be left to continue dealing with the ramifications of their son's actions, long after everyone else has gotten back to their own lives ... and that's when they'll need the most support. Don't let them think everyone has forgotten about them and their son - check in on them next month, be there to talk several months down the line, check in on them this time next year ... Letting them know that their friends are there for them on a long-term basis and don't expect them to have somehow "gotten over" this event will mean a lot to them in the long run, I would guess. My best to you, the son, and the family as a whole.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:57 PM on November 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

Though I'm not one to believe anecdotal stories of successes can be of much help without specific details and the resources to accompany them, this story reminds me of Act One of the This American Life Episode 317: Unconditional Love. This could either be inspiring or incredibly frustrating, so I apologize if it is the latter.

Very sorry to hear about this. I hope he and his family make it out alright.
posted by bhamrick at 8:00 PM on November 16, 2010

The parents are going to be caretakers for at least a year, and they are going to need some
kind of support, because the caretakers need days off, too, so they can keep on in their
duties without cracking up. I think the first commenter said it most succinctly.

You can take up some slack for the parents. The boy, he's going to have to find his own
way, because he's in a very small population. The parents are going to be on the front
line. You can help them, on his good days, when they need a day out, or when they need
some mundane crap to be done, or when they are overwhelmed with tasks at home and
they need someone else to deal with the real world of shopping, or driving, or dealing with
the smog testing or a mechanic, or getting an appliance fixed.

Just keep in touch with them. Try not to be a burden. Try to see how you can help them.
It's going to get worse, for a while.
posted by the Real Dan at 8:10 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, wow, what a horribly depressing situation. I'm so sorry to hear about this. I'd say the thing you can do is be a friend to your friend, listen to her, support her, encourage her to get a therapist or support group because the worst is yet to come. Good luck.
posted by Sal and Richard at 10:43 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would focus on the parents, I would suggest good food that can be frozen and reheated when they need it (lasagna, enchiladas) . My guess is that the your friend will be taken care of for the most part, let it be known that you are available to help in anyway that you are needed.

When you are taking care of someone else full time like his parents will be; you loose track of yourself, spending time on them will allow them to take better care of him. Be kind, compassionate, loving and ready to help before they ask.

I wish you all the best and stay focused on the fact that he is alive and has friends that are willing to help.
posted by Felex at 11:19 PM on November 16, 2010

If they're the sort of friend you would call or email "just to say hi", then mark the date on your calendar and call them every year. Just to say hi.
posted by K.P. at 4:58 AM on November 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

You could volunteer to be the "help coordinator" so that they aren't overwhelmed with food one week, and get nothing the following week. I recommend the Lotsahelpinghands site for that, although I'm sure there are others.
posted by MichelleinMD at 8:55 AM on November 17, 2010

Please come back to this thread and give us updates. My thoughts and "prayers" and good vibes are with your friend's family.

Other than that... don't be surprised if your friend pulls back suddenly. People react to suicide (and attempted suicide) differently and sometimes, it just feels like an incredible burden. It may look to the outside like your friend might be rejecting help, which is something that I've seen happen with suicide survivors. Just stick around in the background and try to suss out what your friend wants - even that means staying at arm's length from time to time.
posted by sonika at 9:01 AM on November 17, 2010

Long term help. Be there for them to say hello next month, and the month after. Be the person who can pick up the dry cleaning, or send a flower arrangement just because. Drop a note in the mail that you are thinking of them. Send gift certificates for dinners out, or whatever it is you know they like.

Be prepared to listen without feeling like you have to offer a solution to the frustrations that they encounter.

Be aware that the son may have no interest in getting better, and even if he does want to have a "normal" life, there will be many obstacles. Try to create a space that makes it safe for him to have all of those feelings.

Know that your friends may quite possibly feel unbearable loads of shame over what has happened. (the usual thoughts - what could we have done? multiplied probably by a thousand. It seems the more someone has done for a person, the stronger these feelings of inadequacy may be.)

And if your friends make any direct requests, or hint at what they might need, please let them know what you can do to provide what they need. Whether that's time out with you, or someone to fold their laundry, or whatever.
posted by bilabial at 3:45 PM on November 17, 2010

Response by poster: Hi, thanks for the replies. The parents are already in therapy, and we are hoping that the son's situation won't be hopelessly grim because shotgun blasts aren't necessarily horrible (remember how Cheney shot that guy?)

The son is on lithium and a bunch of other things I don't know. It's going to be a rocky road for him, but I guess he's always been unhappy. His exterior now reflects his interior. (He was a tall, attractive ballet dancer with a gorgeous ballerina girlfriend. Sounds pretty good, right?)

Things still feel overwhelming for everybody and I guess it will take some time to adjust to the new reality. Eventually the son will go home and be cared for by his parents.

It makes me mad at how primitive the state of psychology still is. The kid was under some kind of treatment for over a decade and this is the result.
posted by mrhappy at 2:35 PM on November 18, 2010

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