Talk to Someone
Probably the most important thing you can do if you’re feeling suicidal is tell someone about it. This could be a helpline such as Lifeline, Suicide Call Back Service, Kids Helpline, QLife (LGBTIQ Community), Mensline, Rural & Remote, Veterans, & Headspace, or your GP. If you’re reluctant to talk to someone you don’t know and cant see, try to speak to a trusted friend, family member or work colleague. The ‘S word’ can be difficult, but be specific if you can; statements like ‘I’m struggling’ or ‘I’m not doing too well’ can be misunderstood, leading to people underestimating how you’re at risk.
Take care of your basic needs
Self-care goes out of the window when you’re feeling suicidal, but trying to eat, drink, sleep and take any prescribed meds can all make a difference to how you’re feeling – even if you can only manage a banana or a glass of juice. You might be exhausted with no appetite, but your body and brain need fuel for the fight.
I know from experience how tempting it is to sink a bottle of wine in an attempt to block out negative thoughts, but there’s a strong link between alcohol and low mood. A study found that over half of people admitted to hospital having harmed themselves had been drinking, and there’s a very real chance that alcohol could loosen your inhibitions and tip you over the edge from suicidal thoughts to action. Alcohol may provide short-term relief from unpleasant feelings and emotions, but it’s a depressant and will eventually make you feel considerably worse.
Soothe your senses
When you’re overwhelmed with thoughts of suicide, it can be hard to think straight, and your usual distraction techniques like mindfulness or meditation may not work. This is where it can be helpful to soothe your senses, for example by having a bath, playing your favourite music, lighting a candle or using a nice body lotion. Try to appeal to as many of your senses as you can at the same time. It sounds simple, but can be really powerful in relaxing you to the point where you can use your usual distractions.
Make a safety plan
A safety plan is a step-by-step guide of what to do to keep yourself safe in a crisis, including removing access to things you might use to harm yourself, ideas to distract yourself, and who to reach out to for support. If you’re seeing a counsellor or therapist, they may be able to help you write out a plan, or you could ask your partner, a friend or relative for their input. Having a safety plan means you don’t have to think about how to keep safe, and it can give you a comfort and focus when things feel all-consuming. Download the ‘Be safe’ suicide safety app so you always have it with you or if it’s in hard copy, keep it somewhere like your bedside table or near your phone so it’s close to hand when you need it. You can download this app from our website by clicking on this link: https://www.keepcalm.org.au/our-apps/
Get some exercise
If you’re deeply depressed, the idea of getting up and going to the gym probably sounds ridiculous – and impossible. It may feel like the last thing you want to do, but just a walk in the fresh air can be helpful if you’re not up to anything more strenuous. OK, so it’s not an instant solution, but gentle exercise releases endorphins, which can help lift your mood a little, and a change of scene can distract you from your feelings. If you can persuade a friend to keep you company, so much the better.
Make a hope box
In the depths of despair, it can be hard to find hope, but there are always reasons to stay alive. Creating a hope box is a good way to calm yourself when you’re fighting thoughts of suicide. Put in things you can use to distract or soothe yourself when you’re in crisis, so you end up with a box that’s personal to you and filled with things that are meaningful and helpful. Try to include things that appeal to the senses, such as photos, cards from friends, a calming aromatherapy oil, a stress ball, chocolate…
Find some company
When my mental health is at its worst, I tend to isolate myself from other people, convinced that I’m a burden. I’m far from alone in feeling like this; withdrawing from social contact is a big warning sign for suicide. Maintaining contact with your friends and avoiding isolation can help to reduce the risk of feeling suicidal, and making the effort to see people is especially important when you feel like you don’t want to. You may feel like you’re being an inconvenience, but trust me: your friend would much rather you sat sobbing on their sofa than attempt to end your own life.
Do something when you’re at the bottom of the pit, even getting out of bed can feel like climbing Mt Everest. This can make you feel hopeless and useless, fuelling your depression. Instead try to do something – no matter how tiny – that not only distracts you from your painful thoughts, but also makes you feel you’ve achieved something, whether that’s brushing your hair or washing a dish you left in the sink. Remember, even the smallest thing is an achievement when you’re battling thoughts of suicide.
Knowing when to get expert help
Suicidal thoughts are a medical emergency, and need to be treated as such. If you’re feeling desperate and are under the services of a community mental health team, make contact urgently with your care co-ordinator, the duty officer or the out-of-hours helpline. If you’re not, or you can’t get hold of your usual contacts, go to A&E and explain how you’re feeling. They’ll be able to connect you with the duty psychiatric team who can establish what care you need.
The single most important thing that anyone has ever told me about dealing with suicidal thoughts is to wait. Wait one minute, then 10 minutes, then an hour, then two… Every second that you wait is a second that you’re still alive – and potentially a second closer to getting through the crisis. ‘Suicidal feelings usually do not last,’ agrees Richard. ‘As difficult as it can be to appreciate when you’re going through hell, one thing you can rely on is that things do eventually change.’ It won’t be easy; I know how hard it is to wait just 10 minutes when your mind and body are craving oblivion. But as my favourite anonymous quote says, ‘You’ve survived 100% of your worst days so far.’ You’ve come this far. Don’t give up now.