Many of us will have experienced a time of emotional crisis. It could follow a break-up of a relationship, a bereavement, a traumatic event, financial worries or an adjustment to a big change.
We might feel inadequate, a failure, ashamed, angry, agitated, shocked or numb. These feelings may resolve with time, but they might instead be so intense that they either completely overwhelm us or we might even feel cut off from them. We might start to experience thoughts that we would be better off dead or that those we care about would be better off without us.
Such suicidal ideation is quite common. It is generally associated with depression and other mood disorders. However, it may also have associations with adverse life and family events, all of which can increase our risk of suicidal thoughts.
For many, these are fleeting thoughts that we get when we feel overwhelmed and want to escape the pain we are feeling at that moment in time. But for others, the feelings of distress, shame, guilt and low self-worth, are so devastating that these suicidal thoughts escalate and, without help, care and support can lead to disastrous consequences.
What can we do when we feel this way?
The first thing is to acknowledge that things are not going well. This may seem obvious, but when we are trapped in a situation, it is very easy to deny to ourselves and others that there is a problem. Or we might feel so hopeless, useless, numb and disconnected that we can’t see a positive way out.
Sometimes our suicidal thoughts become so frequent that we almost don’t recognise them as we can’t remember not having them. This happened to me when I was spiralling down. It was only when I stopped, took time out and talked to others that I recognised the thoughts and realised how bad things had become.
Reaching out for support
This is the next step. There are many barriers to seeking support such as guilt and shame, made worse by the negative judgements and lack of compassion shown by some to those who do disclose suicidal thoughts.
It can also be hard to open up. We might feel scared or embarrassed, but when we share how we are feeling, whether that be to a trusted friend, family member or colleague or to a trained health professional, we often find that others have gone through similar things and can understand what we are going through. Talking things through can help unburden a lot of the distressing feelings that we have kept bottled up inside and help us see things clearer.
Making a safety plan
Making a safety plan is a way that we can help ourselves. It is a resource developed by others who have been through similar situations and who use it themselves at times when they feel unsafe.
StayingSafe.net, a website set up by 4 Mental Health and the inspiring psychiatrist Dr Alys King Cole, has a free safety plan that can be downloaded onto your phone or printed out. This fantastic website offers support and advice on how to manage suicidal feelings, as well as videos and stories from others who have struggled including Jonny Benjamin MBE. Well worth checking this out for yourself or to help others that are struggling.
A safety plan includes:
- What you can do to get through right now - the next few seconds, the next few minutes. These might be photos or videos of people or animals that you love and care about. It might be thinking about a particular place or memory that gives you joy. It might be speaking to someone you trust and can open up to.
- How to make your situation safer. Is there anything in the house that you could harm yourself with? Have you too many medications at home that could present a risk? Would organising a weekly collection of your meds from the pharmacy be a safer option for you?
- Are there people that make you feel worse or trigger bad memories? Should you avoid them at this time? There are many horrifying websites, chat rooms and blogs that can be really distressing when you are at your most desperate. Is there a way to limit your access online to avoid these?
- Things to lift or calm your mood to help you get through tough times - activities such as going for a walk, watching an uplifting video or film, getting outside in nature or listening to music. Whatever helps you feel better. Or whatever allows you permission to hope, whether that be seeing friends, buying a lottery ticket or having a haircut.
- Things to distract you when it feels like nothing will lift your mood or calm you. This might again be listening to music, watching a film or box set or getting outside. Or it might be cognitive things such as counting backwards in 7s from 100, counting things in the room that begin with a particular letter or visualising being in a pleasant surrounding. Again choose things that will really work for you.
- People to support you. Include those that make you feel better just by hearing their voice without necessarily having to say how you are feeling. And those who perhaps know that you are feeling low or overwhelmed who allow you to feel comfortable without asking questions or having to talk. And those who you might want to open up to.
- People you can talk to when you are distressed or thinking about self-harm or suicide. These might be friends, family, colleagues, a support worker - someone that you trust and feel comfortable talking to.
- Emergency professional support. Keeping crisis numbers to hand in one safe place can be really helpful. The last thing you want to do when in crisis is spend time looking for numbers. These might be for the local mental health crisis line, your GP, your local safe haven or a helpline such as the Samaritans, Papyrus (for young people) or Childline.
Helping someone else who is in crisis.
Letting people know that you care and listening with kindness and compassion is key.
Both Mind and Staying safe have some really helpful practical ways that you can support someone who is struggling and having end of life thoughts.
As Staying Safe comment:
“There IS hope – it is vital that people experiencing suicidal thoughts know that they are NOT alone and there are people who care about their situation.”
Helplines and support
These are just a few