Considering suicide? How to stay safe and find treatment

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Considering suicide? How to stay safe and find treatment

When life doesn't seem worth living anymore, it may seem that the only way to find relief is through suicide. When you're feeling this way, it may be hard to believe — but you do have other options.

Take a step back, and separate your emotions from your actions for the moment. Recognize that depression, despair and hopelessness can distort your perceptions and reduce your ability to make good decisions. Suicidal feelings are the result of treatable problems. Act as if there are other options instead of suicide, even if you may not see them right now. It may not be easy, and you might not feel better overnight. Eventually, though, the sense of hopelessness — and thoughts of suicide — will lift.

Get immediate help

If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, get help right away:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Call a suicide hot line number — in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor.

If you're feeling suicidal but you aren't immediately thinking of hurting yourself:

  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one — even though you may be reluctant to talk about your feelings.
  • Seek help from your doctor, a mental health provider or other health care professional.
  • Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone in your faith community.
  • Call a suicide crisis center hot line.
  • Make an appointment with your primary care doctor or other health care provider or mental health provider.

Use coping strategies

You may struggle with suicidal feelings frequently, perhaps many times a day if you're in the depths of depression. Take steps to cope with those feelings in a healthy way. Consider asking a doctor, family member or friend to help you identify coping strategies tailored to your specific situation that will help you manage thoughts of suicide.

You may have to do things you don't feel like doing, such as making the effort to talk to friends when you'd rather stay in your bedroom all day. Or it may mean going to the hospital for a mental health evaluation. Do your best to stick with it, even when you're in the grips of despair and hopelessness. It will get easier to do the things you need to as they become habits. If you're already in treatment, go to all of your appointments and take medications as directed.

As part of your strategy, consider these measures:

  • Keep a list of contact names and numbers readily available. Include your doctors, therapists and crisis centers that can help you cope with suicidal thoughts.
  • Give your medications to someone who can safeguard them for you and help you take them as prescribed.
  • Rid your home of guns, razors or other objects you may consider using to hurt or kill yourself.
  • Schedule daily activities for yourself. Even things that have brought you small pleasure in the past can make a difference — such as taking a walk, listening to music, watching a funny movie, knitting or visiting a museum. If they no longer bring you pleasure, try something different.
  • Get together with others. Make an effort to be social, even if you don't feel like it, to prevent isolation.
  • Avoid drug and alcohol use. Rather than numb painful feelings, alcohol and drugs can increase suicidal thoughts and the likelihood of harming yourself by making you more impulsive and more likely to act on your self-destructive feelings.
  • Write about your thoughts and feelings. Remember to also write about the things in your life that you value and appreciate, no matter how small they may seem at the time.

Make a plan

Create a "plan for life," "safety contract" or similar plan of action that you can refer to when you're considering suicide or are in a crisis. Such plans offer a checklist of activities or actions you promise yourself to take in order to keep yourself safe when you have thoughts of suicide.

For instance, your plan may require that you contact certain people when you begin considering suicide. It may also include commitments to take medication as prescribed, to attend treatment sessions or appointments, and to remind yourself that your life is valuable even if you don't feel it is.

Also, consider creating a list of specific activities to try when negative thoughts start to intrude. Do things you find soothing for your negative feelings. Don't wait to do these activities until you've reached the point of suicidal thoughts. Do healthy activities when the first negative thoughts start to creep in. Make certain they're activities that would normally offer enjoyment and that can help comfort you, not cause additional stress.

Even if the immediate crisis passes with your self-care strategies, see a doctor or mental health provider or seek help through a hospital emergency room. This will help you get appropriate treatment for suicidal thoughts and feelings so that you don't have to continually operate in a crisis mode.

Look beyond thoughts of suicide

The despair and hopelessness you feel as you consider suicide may be the side effects of an illness that can be treated or a difficult situation. These emotions can be so overpowering that they cloud your judgment and lead you to believe that taking your own life is the best, or only, option.

But even people who've had suicidal thoughts for months or years can learn to manage them and to develop a more satisfying life through effective coping strategies. Take an active role in saving your own life, just as you would help someone else. Enlisting others for support can help you see that you have other options and give you hope about the future.

Last Updated: 2010-03-26
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