When someone is experiencing significant or persistent distress, or negative feelings, in their life, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or hopeless about the future. Many people think about suicide because they’re looking for a way to escape the pain they’re feeling. If you’re thinking about suicide, know that you’re not alone and your feelings are valid.
The best things you can do when you’re feeling suicidal are; make sure you are not alone, be in a safe place including making your home safe by getting rid of things you could use to kill yourself, and make a safety plan.
What is a safety plan?
A safety plan is a written set of instructions that you are able to use when you’re feeling suicidal and may be at risk of hurting yourself. When using the safety plan you start with the first item and work your way through escalating steps until you feel safe.
It is helpful to make the safety plan with someone you trust; a therapist may be the best option, but a close friend or family member can also be helpful. It is particularly important to get these people in your life involved because they are the ones you are likely to call on for support when you need to execute the safety plan. It is also helpful to create the safety plan when you’re not actively suicidal, and keep it in a place where it is easy to access when suicidal thoughts arise.
How to create a safety plan
Before starting to write down items on your safety plan, it can be helpful to determine the situations where using the safety plan is necessary. Consider the situations, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that precede or accompany suicidal thoughts for you and when a safety plan would be most helpful. Next, see our free digital download Coping with Suicidal Thoughts where you can print and fill out a safety plan.
When making a safety plan, the following are the key elements you want to consider and have a ‘plan’ to do:
What can I do to calm or comfort myself?
Write down a list of things you can do to calm or comfort yourself when you’re in distress. When our emotions are elevated, we often can’t recall these things so having them written down can be helpful. Remember to make sure you have all the supplies needed in your safe space to be able to do these comfort things.
What are my reasons for living?
When feeling suicidal, it is easy to get caught up in the emotions we are feeling and focus on the hopelessness we feel – which can lead us to think that nothing is ever going to change. Even when we are experiencing lows or a significant amount of distress, there are still positive things in our lives. Refocusing on the reasons we have to live can give us a little bit of hope and give the suicidal thoughts time to pass.
Some people find keeping a gratitude journal to be helpful for regular reminders of the positive things in their lives. Reading through that gratitude journal can be helpful here.
Who can I talk to?
On this safety plan, keep a list of the people who you are able to talk to when feeling distressed and suicidal. Ensure to write down their contact information for easy access, and make sure to include more than one or two people in case someone isn’t available.
Also, write down the professionals you can contact for support if your primary friends or family members are unavailable. This could be your therapist.
Lastly, write down the number for your local crisis line in case no one else is available. In BC, the number for the crisis line is 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).
Where can I go to be safe / how can I make my current environment safe?
Often the best course of action is to not be alone when you’re feeling suicidal. This could mean going to a close friend or family member’s house, or having them come to you. Some find going to a populated area public area (e.g., a park) to be helpful. Write down the places that you feel comfortable being to keep yourself safe.
This also means making the environment you are in, typically your home, safe. Get rid of, or lock away, things that you may be able to use to harm yourself.
What can I do if I still don’t feel safe?
Consider going to the emergency room. It may even be helpful to keep the name and directions to the near hospital as part of your safety plan.
If you do not feel safe or comfortable getting yourself to the emergency room, call 911.
Many people experience suicidal thoughts and it’s not something to be ashamed of. Having a safety plan helps you and your loved ones be prepared to keep you safe when you are feeling distressed.
Check out Dr. Joti Samra’s Coping with Suicidal Thoughts for more resources, information, support, and practical steps to help cope with suicidality. If you or someone you love is at immediate risk reach out to 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) for 24-hour support.