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Coping with suicidal thoughts

The content here talks about suicidal thoughts and other mental health problems, which some people may find triggering.

Friend comforting a sad friend and hugging them

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, you’re not alone. What you might not realize is that suicidal thoughts are fairly common. These types of thoughts tend to be temporary and they don’t always mean that someone wants to die. They do often mean that someone is experiencing more pain than they can cope with right now.

Trying to manage these types of thoughts on your own can be frightening, confusing, and lonely, so it’s really important to tell someone. You don’t have to struggle on your own. Having suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean that you are ‘bad’, ‘weak’ or ‘crazy’, and you don’t have to feel ashamed. Try to be brave and reach out for help.

If you feel that you’re in immediate danger of taking your own life, please call emergency services or go to the nearest emergency department right now. There are people who can help you and it’s important to talk to someone immediately. You can also find links to local options for crisis support in the sidebar or here.

What are suicidal thoughts?

Different people experience suicidal thoughts and feelings in different ways. You might feel unable to cope with difficult or intense emotions, or there may be difficulties in your life that feel intolerable. You might be thinking that you would be better off dead or that your loved ones would be better off without you. You might be thinking that you want to die and be making plans to end your life.

These types of feelings can build up over time or change from moment to moment. You might also be experiencing symptoms such as:

  • Low mood

  • Problems with sleep

  • Finding it hard to concentrate

  • Changes in appetite such as not eating enough/weight loss or eating too much

  • A lack of motivation to do the things you normally do

  • Wanting to avoid other people

  • Low self-esteem

  • Feeling guilty or worthless

  • Urges to self harm

What causes suicidal thoughts?

There are lots of different reasons why you might be experiencing suicidal thoughts. Common reasons include struggling with:

  • Your mental health

  • An overwhelming life situation or major life changes

  • A bereavement

  • Being bullied or discriminated against

  • The end of a relationship

  • Problems with money, housing or employment

  • Alcohol or substance misuse

  • Pregnancy, childbirth or post-natal depression

  • Something traumatic that happened to you

  • Isolation or loneliness

  • A long-term physical health problem

How can I help myself?

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, you don’t have to cope on your own and there are things you can do to help yourself. Here are some steps you can take right now.

Share how you’re feeling with someone you trust

Try to tell someone you trust how you’re feeling. Keeping suicidal thoughts to yourself can cause a huge amount of mental anguish. Just talking about how you feel can be a huge release. It can also help to take away the intensity of the thoughts and help you to feel more in control.

How do I talk about suicidal thoughts?

It can be hard to find the words to start talking about suicidal thoughts. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it. Just starting the conversation is the most important thing. You might want to say something like:

‘I’ve been really struggling and I’m having suicidal thoughts/thoughts about harming myself. I just wanted to let you know what’s going on.’

It can also help to let the person know what you need right now. You might want to say something like:

‘I need someone to listen to me without judging’ or ‘I don’t know what to do next but I would really appreciate your support’.

How will someone else react if I tell them how I feel?

When people hear that someone they care about is having suicidal thoughts they can react in different ways. They might be shocked, upset or they might even panic. They might also feel angry, guilty, or blame themselves. They might also be understanding and supportive. You won’t know until you have the conversation.

What if I get a bad reaction?

If you’ve told someone how you feel and they don’t react in the way that you’d hoped, try not to lose heart. Usually, if you keep talking you can find a way through together. However, if the person doesn’t seem to understand or reacts badly, try talking to someone else. Don’t let a bad experience stop you from getting the support that you need.

What if I don’t feel safe to share how I feel?

You might have good reasons for not wanting to share how you feel with the people around you. That might be because of cultural sensitivities, any beliefs your family or friends may have about suicide, or any other reason that makes it feel unsafe to share.

If you don’t feel able to tell anyone about how you feel, try to find other ways of getting some support around you. For example, you could let someone know that you’re struggling and need support, without disclosing all the details.

You might want to say something like:

‘I’m really struggling right now, it would help me to feel safer if you came over tonight’

‘Things are really tough for me right now, having you around and talking really helps’.

Getting anonymous support

If you don’t feel able to share how you feel with someone you know or you would just prefer to talk to someone that you don’t know, there are crisis helplines where you can share how you feel anonymously. You can find support options in your area here.

Be with other people

Try to avoid spending long periods of time on your own, especially if you’re someone who tends to dwell on things. If you don’t want to be with friends or family, you could go to a cafe, library, supermarket or somewhere you feel safe. Just being around other people can help keep you safe even if they don’t know what’s going on for you.

Make your home safe

Get rid of things that you might use to harm yourself or make it harder for you to access them. You could clear out old medication, lock any current medication away or ask someone you trust to look after it for you. You could also clear out, lock away or put out of sight anything else that might be harmful such as razor blades or sharp knives.

Recognize that suicidal thoughts are temporary

Suicidal thoughts and difficult feelings such as sadness, anger, shame, and loneliness don’t last forever, and certainly not at this level of intensity. Even though things might feel unbearable right now, it’s important to remember that emotions change over time and they’re not permanent. Don’t make any big decisions based on how you feel right now. While your pain is very real, there’s always hope, and harming yourself is not your only option.

Drugs and alcohol can also make suicidal thoughts and difficult emotions feel much more intense and skew your judgment. Try to avoid drinking or using drugs, particularly if you’re feeling hopeless or suicidal.

Make a safety plan

It’s really helpful to have a safety plan to follow when you have thoughts about harming yourself. Keep the plan somewhere you can easily access it such as on your phone or in your wallet. You might want to give a copy to someone you trust as well. Try to make the plan simple and straightforward so you don’t have to think too much when you need it.

Here are some suggestions of what you could include on your safety plan:

An activity that helps to calm or distract you

This could be anything that works for you. Some examples are doing breathing exercises, making a nice meal, listening to your favourite podcast or taking a walk. If you’re not sure, try to think about what’s helped in the past.

A list of your reasons for living

Your reasons for living might include friends and family, pets that you love, your goals, hopes, dreams and responsibilities. This can help to remind you of the good things you do have in your life when things are feeling bleak and negative thoughts take over.

A list of contact numbers of people who you trust and can call in a crisis

Make a list of friends and family members who know what’s going on for you and could support you in a crisis. You could also include your healthcare provider on the list. Make sure to have at least a few different options so you have a backup if someone doesn’t answer your first call.

You might also want to include what you will say so you don’t have to think about it when you’re feeling distressed. For example, ‘I’m feeling like harming myself, please can you come over right now’ or ‘I’m having suicidal thoughts and I need you to talk with me’.

A crisis helpline number

You can make a note of any local or national crisis helplines or text services. These can help if you can’t get hold of your contacts or you don’t feel able to speak to someone you know.

A place where you can go to keep safe

This might be a friend or family member's house, or any other place where you feel safe. This can help to remove you from a difficult situation if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

What to do if you feel out of control

You can note down your nearest emergency department and the number for emergency services here. If you feel at high risk of killing yourself and out of control, this is the right option for you.

If you’re feeling in crisis, work your way down the list until you are safe.

Look after yourself

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s important to make sure that you’re looking after your basic needs and sticking to your routines. That means making sure you’re eating well, sticking to a sleep routine, doing some physical activity, and making time to connect with the people you care about.

Try to plan your day by setting small easy-to-achieve activities, such as going for a walk, food shopping or doing the washing up. This will help to keep you occupied and give you a sense of achievement.

Get professional help

Some people might need professional support to help them manage their suicidal thoughts. There might also be an underlying mental health problem that’s causing or exacerbating suicidal thoughts. The good news is that mental health problems are treatable.

A good starting point is talking to your doctor. They can help explore what options might be right for you including therapy, counseling or medication.


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