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Suicidal thinking is a fairly common issue, with reports of as many as 50-80% of people experiencing these thoughts at one point in their lives. However, having suicidal thoughts does not mean you have to act on them, and, in fact, most people never do.

Suicidal thinking can stem from a variety of things, such as untreated depression or anxiety, a side effect of medication, a history of trauma, or a build up from difficult events. Thoughts about suicide can reflect the intense pain, desperation, and hopelessness that depression can bring. Having suicidal thoughts can bring additional pain and anguish.

Many people who have suicidal thoughts believe that suicide is the only thing that will end their pain and suffering. If they can be given alternatives that will really help change their situation for the better, they often stop thinking about suicide. Most situations that suicidal people are in are temporary, and there are almost always ways to change.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, the key is to reach out to someone before you use suicide as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Getting help from a friend, family member, teacher, mental health professional, or medical professional can be life saving.

This site will provide information for people who are feeling desperate right now, as well as people who have been contemplating suicide, and those who are concerned about a friend or family member who may be suicidal.

Thinking about attempting suicide now?

If you have done something to harm yourself or end your life, call 911 or get to a local hospital’s emergency room right away.

If you are seriously thinking about harming yourself but haven’t yet, here are some things you can do that may help:

  • Make a deal with yourself that you won’t act just yet.

  • Tell someone how you are feeling, or find someone to be with you.

  • Call the Counseling Center and ask for an emergency appointment.

  • Make an emergency appointment with your medical professional or Health Service.

  • Challenge yourself about what is stopping you from seeking help.

  • Do something to distract yourself from your thoughts, such as watching TV or a DVD, reading a book, writing in a journal, cleaning your room, getting organized for your class, etc.

  • Call one of the 24-hour hotlines listed at LINK (to Immediate help at bottom of page).


Having frequent thoughts about suicide?

Needing relief from pain

Suicidal intentions are most often prompted by a desperate need for relief from intensely painful feelings. Surviving suicidal thoughts is about learning how to find relief without resorting to suicide.


A risky habit

Simply having suicidal thoughts does not mean you will act on them. However, the habit of repeatedly thinking about suicide is a risky one. Repetition brings a sense of falsely comforting familiarity. It dulls the instinctive recoil from danger.

Though it may be difficult, hold on to the belief that there ARE ways to resist suicide and find relief.


Strategies for surviving suicidal thoughts

  • Make a commitment to yourself
    Challenge the self-criticism habit and make a commitment to taking care of yourself as best you possibly can for the moment.

  • Reduce the risks
    Protect yourself from impulsively acting on your thoughts by putting dangerous objects out of immediate reach. Give pills, weapons etc. to someone else for safe-keeping, throw them away, or put them in a locked or inaccessible place to make it harder to act impulsively.

  • Tell someone how you feel
    Tell someone else how you are feeling and get appropriate help. You may need to challenge yourself about what's stopping you from getting help. Be prepared for non-professionals to be overwhelmed by what you tell them, and don't expect a “perfect” response. But remember, it is always better to make human contact than to stay isolated and alone with your thoughts.

  • Check medication side effects
    Be aware that some anti-depressant medication can increase the risk of suicidal thinking, especially when you first start taking them. Also, when the medication first starts taking effect it can increase your energy and motivation before improving your mood, increasing the risk of acting on suicidal thoughts. Talk to your doctor about the risks and be extra vigilant with other strategies for keeping yourself safe.

  • Check alcohol and drugs
    Both alcohol and drugs tend to reduce your inhibitions and make it more likely you could do something you will regret the next day. Check your alcohol/drug consumption and try to cut down. Try not to drink alone or to end up alone after drinking.

  • Set small goals
    Each evening set small tasks or goals for the next day. It can be something as simple as watching a certain TV program, going to a class, or going to lunch. Set another task or goal as soon as you have completed one. Just knowing you can still meet goals despite feeling low can help combat depression.

  • Minimize time spent alone
    Depression and suicidal thinking thrive in isolation. Try to minimize time spent alone in your room - take work to the library, ask friends to be with you at vulnerable times, make plans ahead for weekends and other lonelier times, and generally work on building your support networks.

  • Understand some of the reasons for suicidal thinking
    Because suicide is such a taboo, you may not be aware of how common it is for people to think about suicide or the various general reasons for suicidal thinking. Read about depression and suicide, and assess your own suicidal thinking habits to identify which are relevant to you.

  • Identify depressed thinking habits
    Suicidal thinking is the ultimate all-or-nothing thinking habit, and the culmination of other habits of depressed thinking which intensify the depression habit spiral. Learn how to challenge depressed thinking.

  • Start breaking the suicidal thinking habit
    You may not be able to stop thoughts from entering your head, but you can stop actively inviting them in. Try to stop using thoughts of suicide as a barometer for how bad you are feeling. Use distraction techniques when you notice thoughts about suicide bothering you, or practice other techniques for challenging depressed thinking. If you need help learning these techniques, a mental health professional can teach you.

  • Work on rebuilding meaning in your life
    Depression drains meaning out of life and challenges us to take responsibility for making our lives meaningful. Challenge the cynicism and perfectionism that may be preventing you from embracing hopeful or constructive ideals and goals for your life.


Worried about a friend or family member?

It is important to be able to identify if someone you love is at risk of committing suicide. This section will give some tips on what to look for and some ideas about how to help someone who is suicidal.


What should I look for?

There are many warning signs people can exhibit when they are suicidal. Here is a list of some of common signs to look for.

  • Suicidal thinking, threats or attempts

  • Talking, listening or writing about death

  • Writing a will, giving things away, saying goodbye in unusual ways

  • Cleaning a room, locker, and/or desk when out of character

  • Acquiring guns, knives, or large quantities of pills

  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs

  • Statements of hopelessness

  • High-risk or impulsive behavior

  • Self-injuring or self-harm

  • Isolation, drawing away from friends and family


What can I do to help?

  • Stay
    Do not leave the person alone unless there is a risk of harm to yourself. Studies show that most people will not harm themselves when they are with someone. You do not need to say much and there are no magic words to say to fix the situation.

  • Communicate your concern
    Isolation and lack of support are key factors in depression. Letting the person know you are worried could be a key first step in breaking that isolation. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it. Show patience and caring. Avoid arguments and giving advice.

  • Listen
    What might seem trivial to you can be overwhelming and consuming to the person in pain. Let them know that it is ok to share their pain with you, and that you take what they are saying seriously.

  • Be realistic about what you can offer and get help
    Be realistic with yourself and honest with the person about what your limits are. Depression is best dealt with by a mental health professional. Don't take on more than you can handle, and know that you do not have to be a counselor. Just be the link, and help your loved one get professional help. Being clear about when and how you are available makes it easier to avoid blow-ups or burn out.

  • Know the warning signs
    Read the section of this website on depression and see if the person you are worried about persistently displays any of the warning signs of depression or suicide.

  • Be both sensitive and persistent
    Depression affects a person's thinking patterns and sense of perspective. They may be unaware that they are affected or at risk. Don't be surprised if their initial response is abrupt or rejecting. Do persevere in showing you care.

  • Help build a support network
    It is unwise to find yourself the sole source of support. Make it clear that you cannot carry the burden of support alone. Make sure that the person starts to build a support network of friends and family, as well as other appropriate help.

  • Encourage professional help
    Help the person to identify and approach the available sources of local professional Gustavus Health Service or a local doctor, Counseling Center Gustavus Chaplains or local pastors.

  • Ask the person what would be helpful
    Don't assume you know what would be most helpful. Help which is respectfully negotiated is much more likely to be taken up.

  • Learn about depression
    It is not possible to “snap out” of depression and there are no simple solutions. Read about strategies for tackling depression on this site or in one of the books listed. Pass on what you have learned and help the person find what works for them.

  • You can ask about suicidal thoughts
    If you are at all concerned about this, don't be afraid to ask the person directly whether they have any suicidal thoughts. Contrary to popular belief, this is unlikely to “put ideas in their head” but may well offer them the relief of being allowed to talk about a taboo subject. However, do not feel you have to do this it can be very overwhelming and disturbing to hear about a loved one's suicidal thoughts. Also, never agree to keep it to yourself. Suicidal thinking is serious and needs professional support.

  • Get support for yourself
    Remind yourself that you cannot take on responsibility for keeping another person safe or making them happy that responsibility is ultimately theirs. Make sure you are properly supported. It can be extremely stressful living with or caring about a person affected by depression.


A few examples of what a friend could do

  • Make a regular arrangement for coffee, a walk, or a phone call.

  • Set aside time to hear how the person is feeling, without advising.

  • Accompany them to make a doctor's or counseling appointment.

  • Let them know you care verbally or by gesture (e.g. cook a meal).

  • Respect their need to be “normal” sometimes and not talk about it.

  • Continue including them in social arrangements, but don't push too hard.


People who can help

If you or someone you care about appears depressed or suicidal, don’t wait. Get help immediately.


Immediate 24-hour help

National Crisis Line: 1-800-784-2433

National Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

Yellow Ribbon Hotline: 1-800-865-0606

Suicide Prevention Services of America: 800-273-8255

Emergency Medical Squad: 911

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