When suicidal thoughts overwhelm or frighten you, remember this: You matter, and help is available.

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Illustration by Brittany England

First, know that you’re not alone in this darkness. Many people have had these kinds of thoughts and feelings, especially when struggling with mental health concerns or challenges in their personal life.

Suicidal thoughts can take different forms. You might see little point in living, or wish you could simply stop existing. You might find it almost impossible to stop thinking these thoughts.

Sometimes, reaching out for support feels too difficult to contemplate.

This guide can offer a starting place.

If you’re in crisis, the most important thing to do is to connect with a professional who can help.

This guide is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It aims to provide a resource to help folks who have experienced suicidal ideation think through ways to cope in preparation for future events.

Below, you’ll find clear, straightforward tips for getting support during a crisis, coping with suicidal thoughts, and safely navigating the next few hours, and then the next few days. You can find a list of suicide prevention resources here.

Life might certainly seem unbearable right now, but that doesn’t mean it always will. Each new day creates an opportunity for your feelings to change. No feelings last forever. The goal is to not make a permanent decision based on a temporary feeling, thought, or impulse.

These tips can help you find some peace until suicidal thoughts begin to fade.

Crisis helplines: Call, text, or chat

When people are having thoughts of harming themselves, crisis hotlines can make a big difference.

As scary as it can seem, opening up about what you’re going through can often yield some relief. Hotlines can help even if you don’t plan to act on these thoughts. Suicide prevention hotlines help millions of people each year.

Crisis hotlines allow you to speak with trained counselors, providing a safe space to talk via phone or text message. Crisis hotline counselors can:

  • check in on your safety
  • listen to what’s on your mind
  • help you explore possible solutions for the issues causing distress
  • talk you through helpful coping techniques

Importantly, like any other mental health resource, not everybody gets what they need the first time they call a crisis hotline. Different hotlines offer different benefits, so you might try a few different ones before finding the support you need.

It’s important to know that if your experience with a hotline doesn’t give you what you need, you have other options for keeping yourself safe, too. You can read about what to do if a suicide prevention hotline fails you here.

Focus on the moment

Instead of fixating on the days ahead, ask yourself: What can I do to get through the next minute? The next 5 minutes?

Deep breathing and mindfulness techniques that engage your senses can help you stay present in the moment. Deep breathing can help you regulate enough to create space for new thoughts and avoid acting impulsively.

Often, people need to practice mindfulness to get the most benefit from it, so mindfulness is most helpful if it’s already a part of your practice or coping skills repertoire.

Find a distraction

Positive distractions can help you temporarily set aside your pain until you feel more able to address it.

To distract yourself, turn to self-care, or things that lift your mood and offer comfort:

  • Take a walk. You can set a destination or simply walk until you feel a bit better. Using your senses to focus on the world around you can help you get some distance from painful thoughts.
  • Watch (or listen to) something funny. Humor helps many people navigate moments of crisis. Try a comedy TV show or podcast, your favorite funny animal videos, or anything else that makes you laugh.
  • Put on a favorite playlist. As each new song starts, encourage yourself to make it through another few minutes.
  • Snuggle your pet. Along with love and affection, pets can also provide a reason to keep living. Spending time with your animal companion can help you reconsider acting on suicidal thoughts.
  • Try a favorite hobby. Even when you don’t feel like doing anything, activities that occupy your thoughts — cooking, playing video games, writing, making music — can help you move past distress.

Make a safety plan

Research suggests safety planning can help ease suicidal thoughts and prevent suicide.

Safety plans can help you manage suicidal thoughts when they come up. You’ll usually make one with support from a therapist or other healthcare professional, but you can also start one on your own.

Some things to consider:

  • Who can you call? List names and numbers for trusted friends and family members, your therapist or other healthcare professionals, mental health clinics, or crisis helplines.
  • How can you make your environment safe? That might involve staying in your room, leaving the house, or asking someone to secure harmful objects and medications.
  • What can you do? This might include coping strategies that work well for you or things that make you feel better, like watching a movie, taking a scented bath, or looking at treasured photographs and possessions.

Explore reasons to hang on

Coming up with just a few personal reasons to keep living can make it easier to delay plans to act on suicidal thoughts.

Maybe you have a ticket to see your favorite artist perform next month, or you don’t want to die before seeing your best friend who lives in another state.

Reaching out to your loved ones can also remind you that people care about you and want to offer support.

Connect with a loved one

You can also try talking with someone you know and trust, like a friend or family member. Sometimes, just putting painful emotions into words can help them feel more manageable.

Your loved ones may not always understand exactly how you feel. But they can still offer support by listening, keeping you company, and helping you stay safe.

Go somewhere safe

Leaving your house may get you away from any items you could harm yourself with, so changing your environment can make it easier to stay safe.

Visiting a favorite place can distract you and provide encouragement when you feel vulnerable and alone. Plus, spending time around people can help you feel more connected, even if you don’t yet feel ready to talk.

You might try visiting:

  • a library or bookstore
  • a museum
  • a park or other natural environment
  • a restaurant or cafe

Reach out for emergency care

If you don’t feel able to stay safe on your own and don’t feel able to reach anyone you trust, it may be time to reach out to a local psychiatric care center or emergency services.

To access emergency medical support:

  • Call or visit your local psychiatric urgent care center.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency services number.
  • Head to the nearest emergency room.

Working with a therapist or other mental health professional is generally the best way to address suicidal thoughts. Of course, getting help is often easier said than done.

Searching for a therapist might feel overwhelming, for one. You might also face other barriers, like affordability or lack of transportation.

But help is available, no matter your situation:

You can heal and recover from suicidal thoughts and other distress, as these survivors’ stories emphasize.

To find a compassionate therapist near you and start your journey, try these directories: