What to do when you’re having suicidal thoughts – according to a psychologist

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If you’re thinking about suicide, it can be hard to see a way through. Dag Härdfeldt, Livi Psychologist, shares his advice on ways to cope with and overcome these thoughts

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If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings, you’re not alone. Suicidal feelings are more common than you might think and many of us will experience them at some point in our lifetime. While these feelings are frightening, it’s important to remember that they aren’t permanent and most people who experience suicidal thoughts don’t act on them.

‘Luckily, there’s plenty of help available for suicidal thoughts. With the right support, it’s possible to feel okay again,’ says Dag Härdfeldt, Livi Psychologist.

Why might you have suicidal thoughts?

‘Suicidal thoughts are complex and there’s often a combination of factors behind them,’ says Härdfeldt. Everyone deals with life’s challenges differently. Often, suicidal thoughts are a coping mechanism or an understandable option to escape the pain.

‘Suicidal thoughts can be seen as someone’s attempt to cope with a problem that is perceived to be very hard or impossible to solve,’ adds Härdfeldt. ‘The issue is that suicide is a permanent and irreversible way to cope with a problem that might be temporary.

‘It’s important to remember that the difficulties you’re experiencing can change, but that decision is so final it excludes all other decisions and possibilities.’

What’s the difference between active and passive suicidal thoughts?

There are two kinds of suicidal thoughts: active suicidal ideation and passive suicidal ideation. Passive suicidal ideation means having theoretical thoughts about ending your life without the intention of acting on them. These thoughts might be regular but fleeting.

Active suicidal ideation refers to making clear plans to end your life. Passive suicidal ideation can also turn into active suicidal ideation either slowly or suddenly.

‘In general, forming plans to end your life does put you at a higher risk of suicide,’ explains Härdfeldt. ‘The more concrete and advanced the plan is, the higher the risk tends to be.’

Regular thoughts of suicide should never be dismissed or taken less seriously because someone doesn’t have an immediate plan. It’s important to get help as soon as possible, whether that’s by speaking to friends or family or approaching your doctor.

How to deal with suicidal thoughts

If you find yourself having suicidal thoughts, it’s important to know you’re not alone, and there are things you can do to feel better. Here are some steps you can take right away.

  1. Share how you’re feeling with someone you trust

Talking about your suicidal thoughts can help. ‘The first and most important step is to share your thoughts with someone you trust,’ says Härdfeldt.

‘Don’t hold on to these thoughts alone, and don’t let them go unchallenged. Remember, there’s an overwhelmingly high chance that your judgement is impaired if you’re seriously considering suicide.

‘Sharing these thoughts is one of the most powerful ways to get help. Talk to your family or friends, or if you don’t want to confide in people you know, there are online support groups, emotional support lines and apps where you can share your feelings and remain anonymous.’

  1. Be around other people

‘If you feel that your suicidal thoughts are becoming more intrusive and there’s a chance that you may act upon them, you should make sure you’re not alone,’ advises Härdfeldt. ‘Coping alone can feel like a huge responsibility – and you might feel forced to make a decision that can’t be reversed.’

If you don’t want to be with people you know, find somewhere you feel safe, like a library, park, coffee shop or 24-hour supermarket. Just being around others can help, even if they don’t know how you’re feeling.

  1. Recognise that suicidal thoughts are temporary

‘If you’re experiencing intense emotional distress, try to remember that emotions always change over time and are not permanent,’ explains Härdfeldt.

‘It’s impossible to get stuck forever in a negative emotion, so it’s really important that you don’t make a decision solely based on your current emotional state. Remind yourself that during times of intense emotional distress, emotions always change, even though the pain can feel never-ending.’

  1. Make a safety plan

Develop a safety plan that you can use at times when you may be thinking about suicide. ‘For some people, it can help to make a list with simple detailed instructions of what you should do during a crisis,’ says Härdfeldt. Make specific and concrete steps, so there’s no need for decision-making.

The plan may include:

  • A telephone number for helplines or listening services
  • An emergency contact (family, friend, therapist or doctor) who is aware of your situation and can help
  • Details of a safe place to go
  • An activity that you find calming or distracting
  1. Learn to show yourself kindness and self-compassion

If your suicidal thoughts are getting worse, Härdfeldt suggests making a checklist of your basic needs and seeing if any areas can be improved.

‘It’s important to show yourself kindness and compassion when you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, and remove as many demands as possible. Focus on your basic needs: get plenty of sleep, eat healthy meals, do some physical activity and spend time with family and friends,’ says Härdfeldt.

Avoid things that can override your emotions and judgement, such as alcohol and recreational drugs.

  1. Seek professional support

Support from family and friends is invaluable, but some people may need to seek professional help to overcome their suicidal thoughts. ‘Talking to a professional may seem like a scary prospect, but it’s their responsibility to evaluate your thoughts and offer you the right treatment,’ says Härdfeldt.

Speaking to a Livi GP is a good place to start. They can refer you to talking therapies or specialist services, including a community mental health team. They can also prescribe you medication.

How to get help if you’re in real danger of taking your own life

If you’re at risk of acting on your suicidal thoughts or harming yourself, call 999 or go to A&E. You can also call a 24-hour helpline like Samaritans at 116 123.

Alternatively, mental health crisis teams are available locally round the clock, or you can request an emergency GP appointment.

If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, there’s help and support available. Change is always possible – and many people with suicidal thoughts recover.

This article has been medically approved by Dag Härdfeldt, Livi Psychologist

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