What To Do If You Are Having Thoughts of Suicide

If you are having thoughts of suicide, you don’t have to deal with your painful feelings alone. There are resources and people who can help you.

Most people who have thoughts of suicide are also facing depression or anxiety and these symptoms can lead to a skewed perception of what is happening. Reaching out is not easy, but can make the difference between having the tunnel vision that depression and anxiety so often create and having a wider perspective from which you can assess how much your symptoms are taking over.

Individuals often begin to think of suicide as an option when their emotional pain is so high that it exceeds the capacity of one’s coping resources. Figuring out how to increase your ability to cope may help you significantly in both managing and decreasing your psychological / emotional pain. For example, there may be times when you feel unbearably bad or overwhelmed. When you confide in the right person about just how much you are suffering, this can help to share the load, as well as help release some of the pressure that may have been building inside you. Allowing yourself to be cared for is an important life skill.

Many of us hit low points in life in which it’s hard to imagine things improving. At these times it may be useful to remind yourself that:

Life is characterized by impermanence.

Our feelings and mood states are constantly changing. No person feels any one way all of the time. The problem is that when we feel really down, we can become convinced that we have always felt this way. The truth is that each day has many ups and downs, if we really think about it. Our mood states are ever-changing. It helps to pay attention closely to these small moments of relief and connection to others and to try to build on these moments.

Behaviors, thoughts and feelings are interdependent, which means that if we change one, we can shift the others. If you choose to do something differently (behavior) than the way you have typically done it, it is likely that your thoughts and feelings will also shift to match the new behavior.

For example, some depressed individuals may not want to burden others with their distress. Their isolating behavior leads to thoughts (“No one cares about me.”), and feelings (sadness, hopelessness, loneliness), that further push them towards suicide. By making the choice to do something differently (behavior), like confiding in a friend, the individual will likely have different thoughts (“my friend was supportive, may not have been able to solve my problems but, clearly cares about me; not only did she not feel burdened but was more able to share her own burdens with me.”) and feelings (connected to, heard, acknowledged, relief).

You can make choices to help yourself!


  1. Telling Someone
    • Telling a trusted loved one that you are feeling hopeless and thinking of ending your life. Oftentimes, friends and family don’t know how much despair we are feeling and if they knew, many of them would be willing to help.
    • Reaching out to a therapist. Therapists are trained extensively and usually obtain a graduate level degree and a license in order to develop their skills. IRC has a staff care program that offers time-limited free counseling, or you can take yourself to a qualified practitioner or community mental health center. Make sure that the provider or center is a fit for you.

      A therapist can help by:

      • listening to you and helping you to understand your pain
      • holding the weight of your pain with you
      • helping you to see your blind spots
      • giving you skills to help regulate your intense emotions

      Therapist-client fit is essential to any successful therapy outcome. If you do not feel comfortable with the therapist you are or have previously worked with, it makes sense to try working with a different therapist. The relationship with the therapist is the most healing and transformative aspect of therapy.

    • Call a Suicide Hotline. If you are not ready to open up to a loved one, consider calling a suicide hotline to talk through your pain and how to cope. There are helpful services available in many of the locations where IRC works that can be found in the link below.
    • INTERNATIONAL SUICIDE RESOURCES: http://www.suicidestop.com/call_a_hotline.html
  2. Planning Each Day Out

    It helps to strategize each day, one day at a time, with health-promoting plans. Sometimes, it can help to have outlets scheduled for yourself on a repeating schedule, like having tea or coffee with friends every Wednesday, or movie night every Friday. This can reduce the burden of needing to decide what to do for some days of the week, (which can sometimes further compound existing stresses), while also automatically taking you out of your current isolated world into an environment where positive connections are more likely to happen for you.

    There are many outlets for painful feelings other than talking to and confiding in someone.

    • Exercise. Exercise can help to release the natural chemicals in our brain that make us feel better. Physical activity in which we break a sweat keeps these good chemicals in the right parts of our brain for longer, leading to improvement in our overall mood.
    • Journal for 25-minute intervals. Research has shown that translating thoughts to written words has a therapeutic effect. Write continuously for 25 minutes or longer. Don’t re-read what you wrote to avoid re-triggering yourself. Try to be as honest as possible in writing – the more honest you are with yourself, the more it will help. Sometimes, when we feel overwhelmed or unsure about why we even feel the way we feel, it can take a while of writing before we can reach the things that are impacting us right now. Be patient, write exactly what’s on your mind in that very moment, don’t rush it. This is your time to take care of yourself, so be patient and your truth will come out eventually. Journaling can give you a place to put some of your pain.
    • Make social plans. Isolating yourself when you are feeling down is one of the worst things you can do. Even if you think you are not good company, go see some friends and people you like to be around.
    • Read a fiction novel. When your day-to-day work is taxing and exposes you to extreme suffering, your mind needs a break. Immerse yourself in a fun and engaging story rather than turning on the news when you get home.
    • Listen to music. Music can be very therapeutic for some people. Try having music on in your day to day life. Also, bear in mind that while we may not feel like listening to our favorite music when we are low, and may instead gravitate to songs that evoke our sad feelings, this can further trigger and feed our low mood. Try to be aware of this, and remember that in order to take care of yourself in this moment, it is more helpful to hear songs that give you joy inside rather than gloomy songs that may worsen your current state.
    • Cook or bake. Nourishing yourself and eating well is so important when you are not feeling good. This is also an action that can very directly impact your thoughts and feelings – both in the pleasure of enjoying food you love, but also in providing your mind and body the nutrients they need to function optimally, which can help with rectifying imbalances when they exist.
    • Pray if you are religious or spiritual and ask for guidance. Go to your religious or spiritual place of worship and attend services, or join with some close friends or family to do so.

  3. Safeguarding Your Environment

    It’s important to ensure that your current living environment is configured to move you away from self-harm, rather than facilitating remaining stuck or the worsening of your situation.

    • Remove objects from your environment that might tempt you to harm yourself in a low moment.
    • Avoid drinking alcohol or using drugs. Both can compromise your judgment and result in doing things that you later regret.
    • Shut your computer or mobile phone down if you find yourself using it in an unproductive way.

  4. Make a Commitment to Yourself

    Perhaps the most important element of dealing with thoughts of suicide is finding compassion for yourself and taking good care of yourself. While many of us came from environments that lacked nurturance, safety, and predictability, realize that it is possible to do it differently going forward. It is very possible to learn how to be more compassionate and nurturing towards yourself, even as an adult.

    Neuroscience has revealed that the brain is plastic, meaning that it is malleable and can be changed. This is great news! When we find ourselves stuck in a bleak and negative place, it can feel very difficult, if not impossible, to break out of it. But like the muscles in our body, the more we exercise attitudes and behaviors associated with positivity, the more improvement we will feel. Likewise, when we are stuck in a bleak place, it tends to perpetuate bleak thoughts and feelings, which further keeps us feeling stuck.

    The good news is that change is possible but keep in mind that real change happens little by little. Focus on putting one foot in front of the other and, eventually, you will get somewhere else. For now, figure out the next step rather than trying to fix it all at once.

    While it may be difficult to shift our brain patterns and emotional states, the plasticity of the brain means that it IS possible. Even when we are at our lowest. At times like this, we should be aiming to move ourselves out of the crisis state, and back to a more manageable state. Practicing some of the tips and guidelines provided may help to make that incremental shift for you. And once you reach that step, you can continue reinforcing the new pattern of progress by building on what you have done to improve your situation so far.

    We are always growing, and we can learn skills that deeply improve our lives. Take the time to make a commitment to yourself towards achieving the skills that will make a more fulfilling life possible. There is always hope for you!

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