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Coping with Suicidal Thoughts


Updated July 20, 2009

Suicide is the intentional ending of one's own life, and many people experience suicidal thoughts. In the United States, nearly 31,000 people commit suicide each year, and people who have experienced a traumatic event and/or have PTSD may be more likely to attempt suicide. For example, it has been found that around 13% of people who have been raped and have PTSD have also attempted suicide at some point in their life.

Given this, it is important for people who have experienced a traumatic event or have PTSD to be on the look out for suicidal thoughts and develop ways of coping with these thoughts. Catching and addressing these thoughts early on can prevent them from worsening, ultimately helping you avoid a suicide attempt.

When you notice that you are having an increasing number of thoughts about ending your own life, immediately try the following coping strategies.

Stay Away From Things That You Might Use to Hurt Yourself

A suicide attempt will be more likely to occur if you have the means readily available to you (such as weapons in your or unnecessary medications in your home). Remove those means from your environment or go someone where you will not have access to those means.

Go Someplace Where You Can Be Safe

Identify several places you can go where you would be less likely to hurt yourself. The best places are those where there are a lot of people. For example, some good places to go may be a mall, coffee shop, a busy park during the daytime, a community center, or a gym. Once in that location, immerse yourself in that environment. Pay attention and be mindful of all the sights and sounds around you. Doing this will help put some distance between you and your suicidal thoughts.

Talk To Someone Supportive

Social support can be a wonderful way of coping when you are in a crisis. Call a family member or friend. Let them know you need someone to talk to and would like their support. Change your environment by asking them if you can spend some time with them.

You can also call a suicide prevention hotline to talk to someone supportive. For example, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free hotline for anyone who feels as though they are at risk to hurt themselves. You can get more information on this hotline through their website.

Talk To Your Therapist

Some therapists have ways for their patients to contact them outside of session if they are in crisis. If you have a therapist and you have a system like this in place, you should contact your therapist when you are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Your therapist can help you assess the seriousness of the situation, as well as assist you in coming up with ways of coping with those thoughts.

Think About Reasons To Not Hurt Yourself

Make a list of all the reasons why you should not end your life. Write down anything you can come up with. Write about fears of dying or regrets you might have. Also, think about how ending your life might affect your loved ones.

Challenge Those Suicidal Thoughts

When people feel down and depressed, it is common to have thoughts that are consistent with those moods, and as our moods change, so will our thoughts. Therefore, even though things may feel hopeless, this may just be a consequence of your mood and not necessarily how things really are.

Use self-monitoring to identify hopeless thoughts and challenge them. Is it not possible that your mood might change? Is there really no hope for the future? Have you felt like this before, and if so, did things eventually get better? Ask yourself questions like these to challenge your thoughts of hopelessness.

Be Mindful of Your Thoughts

Another way of coping with suicidal thoughts is with mindfulness. "Take a step back" from your thoughts and watch them. Imagine your thoughts as clouds drifting across the sky. Try not to look at your thoughts as "good" or "bad," but simply as thoughts or objects in your mind. Taking a mindful approach to thoughts of suicide or hopelessness can defuse them, limiting the power they have over your actions and mood.

Manage Your Mood

A number of coping strategies can be helpful in managing your mood. For example, expressive writing or self-soothing coping strategies may help lessen the intensity of your sadness or anxiety. By improving your mood, you may also improve your thoughts, reducing your risk for suicide.

Become Familiar With These Coping Strategies

Don't wait until you are in a crisis situation to become familiar with these coping strategies. Look over them now and come up with a plan for the next time you experience suicidal thoughts. Which one will you try first? If that doesn't work, what will you do next? Remember, every one of these strategies isn't going to always work. Therefore, if Plan A fails, you need to make sure you have a Plan B, Plan C, and so on.

Also, add to this list. Think about what has worked for you in the past. Discuss other options with your therapist if you have one. The more strategies you have available to you, the better off you will be in a time of crisis.

What If None Of These Coping Strategies Work?

In the end, if none of these coping strategies work in lessening your thoughts of suicide, call the police or go to your local emergency room. This can be scary; however, it is most important for you to stay safe and alive.

Finally, if you don't have a therapist and are experiencing suicidal thoughts, it is important to get a psychiatric evaluation, as well as a therapist. Suicidal thoughts are a sign that you may some immediate need help with your symptoms. You can find PTSD treatment providers in your area through UCompare HealthCare from About.com


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (2004). Web-based injury statistics query and reporting system. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars/default.htm.[

Chapman, A.L., & Gratz, K.L. (2007) The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

National Center for Victims of Crime & Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center. (1992). Rape in American: A Report to the Nation. Arlington, VA: National Center for Victims of Crime.

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