A suicide safety plan can play a vital role in keeping you safe when you’re feeling distressed or suicidal.
Tips for creating a suicide safety plan
Work with a trusted family member or friend, or a professional to develop a suicide safety plan. It is helpful to involve important people around you, as they need to know how best to care for you and keep you safe if you’re feeling suicidal.
Try to find a time when you’re feeling well, calm and clear-headed, rather than when you’re suicidal or distressed.
Write your safety plan down and keep it in a place where you can easily find it when you need it.
Your suicide safety plan should include:
Information about when to use the plan. List the kinds of situations, thoughts, feelings or other warning signs that may lead to you feeling suicidal.
A list of things that you can do that help you feel calm and comforted. Think of soothing, calming activities that you can employ when you’re feeling suicidal.
A list of all your reasons for living. It can be helpful to refer to this list when you’re feeling suicidal, as you can lose focus on the positive aspects of your life and concentrate only on the pain you’re experiencing. Your list can remind you of these positives you may have forgotten.
People you can talk to when you’re feeling suicidal. Include their names and contact details, and make sure you have back ups.
Professionals who you can talk to if you need to, again including their names and up-to-date contact details.
A plan of how you can make your environment safe. Think about items you might be likely to use to hurt yourself, and detail how you can remove or secure them. Your plan may also include avoiding things you know make you feel worse.
Emergency contact details that you can use if you are still feeling unsafe. List the name and address of your nearest emergency department or crisis helpline.
Make a commitment to your safety plan. This means promising yourself that you will implement your plan if you need to. The commitment could also involve promising (out loud) to a family member, friend or professional that you will follow your plan.
Self-help for self-harm
What is self-harm?
Self-harm is when you deliberately inflict pain, injury or damage to yourself and is often seen as a coping mechanism to deal with intense emotional discomfort. If you have been thinking about hurting yourself or engaging in self-harming behaviour, you are not the only person to have felt this way, or used self-harm as a way of coping with difficult times in your life.
Self-harm is usually not a suicide attempt or intended to be fatal, but rather a means to cope with or feel some relief from powerful negative experiences and is often associated with strong and sustained emotions such as, guilt, depression and anxiety.
People who use self-harm have usually experienced tough times in their lives. Some circumstances that have led people to hurt themselves are:
- Finding it difficult to express strong feelings (sadness or anger)
- Losing someone close to you, like a parent or sibling
- Being bullied or abused (emotional, physical, and/or sexual)
- Intense emotional pain and loss
- Mental illness (anxiety and depression)
The ways people hurt themselves are varied and may include: cutting, burning, self-medicating, scratching, biting or pinching oneself.
If your self-harm has reached the point where you or someone else are concerned about your physical safety, for example, blood loss or the risk of infection, seek immediate medical attention at your local GP. In an emergency go to your local hospital’s emergency department or call 000 and request an ambulance.
Hurting yourself may feel like it releases and helps deal with emotional pain or gives expression to intense negative feelings that are impossible to put into words and provides a sense of control. In some people, it can be a form of self-punishment or a way to communicate to people that they need help.
However, self-harm only provides temporary relief, and gives you no opportunity to work through your feelings. After a while you may find that you need to hurt yourself more and more to get the same relief. If this behaviour goes on, your self-harm could become self perpetuating as the only means of dealing with obstacles in your life, and ultimately life-threatening.
Alternatives to self-harm
There are alternative ways to cope, and respond differently when you start to feel like hurting yourself. You can try the following:
- Delay the behaviour – put it off until you have spoken to someone or waited for a period of time. You might find that the desire to self-harm then passes.
- Distract yourself – go for a walk, listen to music that expresses how you feel or changes your mood or engage in a hobby you enjoy.
- Diversion – try punching a pillow or punching bag, hold ice in the crook or your elbow, or other activity that can mimic the self-harm but is safer for you.
- Relaxation – try taking a bath or shower, deep breathing or techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation until the feeling passes.
These alternative strategies are not solutions to self harming behaviour, but they can be used as short-term alternatives while you are seeking help through a counsellor or psychologist. These coping strategies can help you to get past the intense feelings that lead you to wanting to hurt yourself. While these feelings are intense, they do pass.
Professional help for self-harm
Self-harm can become a compulsive and dangerous activity and only ever masks the real reasons for its existence. It is not a solution to underlying issues that need to be talked about and resolved safely and in your own time. Even when people do not intend to end their lives, the consequences of this risky behaviour can be fatal.
It is important to get some help from your GP or other health professional to talk about what is happening and to discuss a management plan. The GP may then refer you to a psychologist who specialises in self-harm and can help you to help yourself.
How do I tell them I’m self-harming?
If you are worried about how to talk to someone about the self-harm behaviour, you might start with the following:
- “I’ve been feeling angry/sad/frustrated/guilty about something in my life.”
- “It all started when…”
- “Lately things have been hard and I am feeling…”
If you find talking about it too overwhelming, write down the feelings you have been experiencing and give them to someone who can help you. You might want to share this with a trusted friend or family member first and they can support you in getting the right help for you.