Due to the traumatic nature of a suicide attempt, it is possible for a person to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the incident.

PTSD is a mental health condition that can occur in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event or circumstances. This may include events that the person considers life threatening or emotionally or physically harmful.

PTSD can affect a person on many levels, including mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

This article discusses the development of PTSD after a suicide attempt. It also covers symptoms and treatment for PTSD and how to find help and support for thoughts of suicide.

Content warning

This article includes content that some readers may find upsetting. Please read at your own discretion.

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A suicide attempt is life threatening and often traumatic. Research from 2019 suggests that as a result, it is likely possible for a person to develop PTSD following the attempt. However, the researchers also state that more studies into the prevalence of PTSD among suicide attempts are needed.

Another 2019 study looked at 386 adults who had experienced a suicide attempt. It found that 27.5% of participants screened positive for a possible PTSD diagnosis following their suicide attempt.

The researchers suggested that screening people for PTSD following a suicide attempt should become standard. They state that this may improve quality of life and help to prevent future risk of suicide.

It is also possible for a person who witnesses someone’s suicide attempt to develop PTSD.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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To receive a PTSD diagnosis, a person must experience the following for at least 1 month:

  • at least one avoidance symptom
  • at least one re-experiencing symptom
  • at least two cognition and mood symptoms
  • at least two arousal and reactivity symptoms

Avoidance symptoms include staying away from places, objects, or events that remind a person of the experience. They also include avoiding feelings and thoughts that relate to the trauma.

Re-experiencing symptoms include:

  • flashbacks
  • distressing thoughts
  • dreams or recurring memories that relate to the event
  • physical signs of stress, such as:
    • racing heart
    • aches and pains
    • muscle tension

Cognition and mood symptoms include:

  • negative thoughts
  • difficulty remembering key facts about the event
  • ongoing negative emotions, such as anger, fear, shame, and guilt
  • exaggerated feelings of blame toward oneself or others
  • feelings of social isolation
  • loss of interest in activities
  • difficulty feeling positive emotions, like satisfaction and happiness

Learn more about PTSD symptoms.

Not everyone who experiences trauma, such as a suicide attempt, will develop PTSD. Not everyone with PTSD requires treatment. For some, symptoms of PTSD will disappear over time. However, other people need professional treatment to help them manage PTSD symptoms.

People who feel they may need professional treatment should speak with a mental health or healthcare professional.

Treatment may include psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medications, or a combination of treatments.

Learn more about psychotherapy for PTSD.

If a person is experiencing thoughts of suicide, there are ways they can find help and support.

Support for those experiencing thoughts of suicide includes:

  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
  • speaking with a mental health or healthcare professional
  • speaking with a member of the clergy
  • speaking with a trusted friend or family member

If a person is in immediate danger of harming themselves, it is important to dial 911.

The following are answers to questions people frequently ask about suicide and suicide support.

Does Lifeline call the police?

In rare cases, Lifeline may call the police. Less than 3% of cases end up requiring police intervention. Typically, a Lifeline member can help to de-escalate a situation without the police.

Lifeline members can help a person talk through their thoughts and create a safety plan.

What do you do when your partner threatens suicide?

If a partner threatens suicide, a person must decide if it is a serious threat or if it is a way of controlling their behavior.

If an individual’s partner is seriously in danger of harming themselves, a person should call 911.

If a person believes their partner is using a threat of suicide as a form of emotional abuse and control, they should tell their partner how much they care about them but still stick to their boundaries. They should also leave the choice of living or dying with the other person, where it belongs.

A person should remember that no matter what their partner threatens, they have nothing to prove.

For help and support with an abusive relationship, a person can call 800-799-SAFE (7233).

A suicide attempt is both life threatening and potentially traumatic. This means it is possible for a person to develop PTSD following a suicide attempt.

Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD, and not everyone with PTSD will require treatment. However, treatments such as psychotherapy and medications are available to help manage PTSD symptoms.

If a person is experiencing thoughts of suicide, they can reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. They can also speak with a mental health or healthcare professional.

If someone is at immediate risk of harming themselves, it is important to call 911.