CW: Suicidal ideation, Suicide
It can be challenging to reach out for help, especially in times of distress. Some people find it easier to deal with issues alone, even when the situation becomes dangerous for their own safety. That’s why having a suicide safety plan on hand can help people in times of crisis.
September is Suicide Prevention Month and help is available for those in need. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and #BeThe1To are resources for people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. You can call, text, or chat with the 988 Lifeline at any time to connect with a trained crisis counselor. While the 988 Lifeline is a great resource, it is also beneficial for people who may be battling depression and suicidal ideation to have a safety plan in place.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a safety plan is a set of instructions that act as a guide when psychiatric distress emerges. Creating a suicide safety plan may seem like a scary idea, but this small task can help save lives. Before starting the plan, people should decide if they want it to be on paper, their phone, their laptop, or all of the above. It’s important that the safety plan is accessible whenever life seems overwhelming or hopeless.
The Mayo Clinic also suggests that individuals create their safety plan when they are in a good frame of mind or in the presence of a trained mental health professional. My suicide safety plan saved my life multiple times. Prior to going to therapy, I was having suicidal thoughts. After telling a few close friends, they wrote me a safety plan to refer to while encouraging me to seek professional help.
Once I reached out for help and began going to therapy, I made a formal suicide safety plan with my therapist. To start the plan, I wrote down different warning signs that triggered my suicidal thoughts such as panic attacks, crying spells, and numbness. Having warning signs written out in moments of crisis reminded me that what I was experiencing would pass. For this section, people should list the emotions or experiences that cause them distress.
When dealing with suicidal ideation, it’s important for people to make their environment safe. Oftentimes, this involves writing what items they are likely to use to hurt themselves. It’s a good idea to write down the different places they can go to remove themselves from danger, according to Verywell Mind. For me, that meant going to public spaces when in crisis or asking someone else to take an item away from me for some time.
The next step in my safety plan was listing ways to calm or comfort myself. After starting therapy, I began identifying coping strategies that helped me stay grounded in times of stress. I found that creative outlets were some of the most helpful activities for me so I wrote down hobbies such as watercolors, journaling, and doodling. I also included breathwork because in times of distress, focusing on my breathing allowed me to feel more present in my body and less trapped in negative thoughts. This section is unique to each person and can include a variety of coping mechanisms, hobbies, or care strategies to self-soothe.
In addition to calming efforts, it was helpful for me to list out reasons to stay alive. Oftentimes, people who have depression or suicidal ideation can’t see beyond their pain, according to Verywell Mind. It can be useful to write down what you’re grateful for or list some exciting activities that you want to try in the future. I wrote about my family, friends, and many of the things I have yet to experience as a 22-year-old.
While personal coping and thought reframing can be effective, it’s not always enough in times of distress. If people are still a risk to themselves after implementing the beginning strategies of the suicide safety plan, they should reach out for help. The next section of the plan should contain trusted contact information, according to Verywell Mind. In this part of the plan, I wrote the phone numbers of family members and close friends who lived next door so I could go to their apartment in person if needed.
Finally, the bottom of your safety plan should contain professional resources. This section is critical and allows people to reach out confidentially if preferred. I often found it difficult to reach out to family and friends during times of mental distress because I didn’t want to be a burden or worry others. By listing professional resources such as the 988 Lifeline and other local hotlines, people have quick access to the care and guidance they need. In addition to hotlines, I included the contact information of my psychiatrist and therapist because I felt comfortable communicating with them during times of crisis.
A safety plan doesn’t have to be used once created, but once it’s written, it will always be an available resource. Although I am no longer in a depressive episode, I keep my safety plan with me in case I ever need to refer back to it. If individuals exhaust all sections of their safety plan and still feel at risk, they should go to their nearest hospital emergency room or stabilization center to ask for help. People can also call 911 and ask to be transported to the hospital if they don’t feel safe traveling. Remember that a suicide safety plan is highly personal and should be written in a way that is convenient for individual use. You are not alone, help is available.
#BeThe1To. (2023, August 2). https://www.bethe1to.com/about/.
Patrick Bigaouette, M. D. (2023, January 9). How to develop a suicide safety plan. Mayo Clinic Health System. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/suicide-crisis-develop-safety-plan.
My safety plan. Go to Vibrant.org. https://www.mysafetyplan.org/.
Schimelpfening, N. (2022, April 5). How to create a suicide safety plan. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/suicide-safety-plan-1067524.