One of the best ways to prepare for times when thoughts of suicide become overwhelming is to create a personal safety plan. Your safety plan is a written road map for times when you're fighting against the urge to end your life. Choose a day when you have hope for life, or at least when you aren't overwhelmed by suicidal thoughts. Then, sit down with your counselor, a pastor, or a friend you can trust, and write out a plan to keep you alive. You can make it all in one sitting, or work on it over time. Make changes whenever you need to. Here are seven steps to creating your personal safety plan.
To find your warning signs, ask yourself: What kinds of situations, thoughts, feelings, behavior patterns, or sensations in your body do you feel when you're not doing well and may start thinking of suicide? Do you:
Whatever your warning signs, watch for them. When they pop up, move on stage two of your plan. It's also helpful to tell loved ones, mental health professionals, and other people you trust about your warning signs so they can support you even when you haven't yet realized you need help.
The second stage of your personal safety plan should be a list of things you can do without reaching out to others. Ask yourself: What can I do to distract, relax, or soothe myself? What kind of physical activity can I do? The goal is to steer your mind away from suicidal thoughts.
Work with your counselor, friend, or support system to choose strategies that have worked for you before, or that you feel will work well in the future. You can use these coping strategies when you have mild suicidal thoughts or even when you notice warning signs. This may be all you need, but when your coping strategies aren't quite enough, it's time to implement part three.
Make a list of the places you can you go that help you feel more grounded, or people you can call, text, or meet up with to feel better.
At this phase, you are looking for friends or places to distract you from your suicidal thoughts. If distraction isn't enough and you need to find a safe person, go to the next step.
Make a list of friends, family members, or spiritual leaders who you feel safe talking to when your suicidal thoughts are intense, and you don't believe you can cope on your own. Include contact info for your people in the safety plan, so you don't have to search for phone numbers next time a suicidal crisis strikes.
Remember that if your contacts don't pick up right away, they still care about you. If you aren't able to reach anyone, or if you talk with someone and need more support, move on to part five.
In addition to family and friends, you'll want to make a list of mental health professionals, hospitals, and your therapist, with their contact information. Note the hours when businesses are open. Also, include 24-hour crisis hotlines so that you have someone to talk with at any hour. In the moment, you'll want these numbers easy to find.
Ask yourself: Which items around your house would you use if you tried to end your life? Or, if you have tried to kill yourself in the past, what did you use? Make sure all of these items, along with any accessible firearms, are safely locked away with someone other than you guarding the key. Don't wait to experience further suicidal thoughts to implement your safe-environment plan. Get those dangerous items out of your reach as soon as possible.
Special note on firearms: If you have access to a gun, getting it out of your reach is critical to your safety. People who try to kill themselves without a firearm die only 5 percent of the time – that means 95 percent of people who try to die from suicide without a gun can still experience the joy of living! But people who try to end their lives with a firearm die 90 percent of the time. Guns are extremely unsafe for people at risk of suicide Make sure any firearms in your house are given to a friend or locked away so you cannot reach them. Talk with your therapist and the local police department about the gun laws in your area, so your lifesaving plan is both safe and legal.
When you're in a crisis, and any other time too, remind yourself of the beautiful parts of life – why you want to keep on living. Write those reasons down in your safety plan so that when depression and hopelessness say you have nothing to live for, you'll know the truth. Ask your friends for help and come up with as many reasons to live as you can. And as you feel better, you'll be able to add more. These reasons are a weapon to fight lying suicidal thoughts.
Read through your reasons to live whenever suicidal thoughts strike, and any other time, as often as you want to. It's helpful to remind yourself of the beauty in life. You'll be able to experience that beauty so much more once your depression recedes.
Recovery will take time. You may not feel better right away. But with treatment, and patience, your depression, and the desire to end your life, will lessen, and then finally fade away. Until that happens, know you aren't alone, and hang on. You're stronger than this!