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Tips for Coping with Suicidal Thoughts

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Updated October 17, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you have been struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Having thoughts of wanting to take your own life is a common occurrence among those dealing with depression. It is important to remember, however, that what you are feeling does not have to translate into action. Your life circumstances are constantly changing and your feelings will also change, no matter how hopeless it feels right now. In the meantime, there are steps you can follow to cope with your feelings until they pass.

1. Seek Professional Help

If you are not currently receiving treatment for your depression, this step could involve setting up an appointment with your family doctor or a psychiatrist to be evaluated and treated. If you are already in treatment, but are struggling, your doctor will be able to help you, either by working with you to make changes in your treatment plan or by helping you to be admitted to a hospital until the crisis passes.

2. Call a Suicide Hot Line

Suicide hot lines are an important resource. They are free and can connect you with a counselor who will allow you to talk about your feelings in a safe environment.

3. Avoid Alcohol and Drugs

While it may be tempting to hide from the pain by using drugs or alcohol, this is actually a bad idea. Alcohol can intensify your feelings of sadness and hopelessness. In addition, alcohol and drugs may lower your inhibitions, making you more likely to act on your feelings.

4. Problem Solving

If your depression is related to a situation in your life, it may be helpful to spend some time problem solving. If your problem feels particularly large or difficult, focus on what "baby steps" you can take that will lead you in the direction of a solution. As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

5. Make Your Environment Safe

This could involve removing items from your home that you may feel tempted to use to hurt yourself, such as pills or guns. If removing these items from your home isn't feasible, remove yourself from the situation by going somewhere else for a while.

6. Go Through Your Reasons for Living

When you are feeling bad, it's very easy to forget all the positive things that you still have in your life. Are there people in your life who would be hurt by your death? A beloved pet that needs your care? Maybe you have goals that you still haven't accomplished? Whatever your reasons, take some time to think about them and acknowledge that perhaps your life means more than you think.

7. Seek Human Contact

Although your first inclination may be to isolate yourself in your home and avoid contact with other people, it can be helpful to do just the opposite: Go out for a walk; go shopping; seek out human contact. It will help distract you from your thoughts and, by being in a situation where you can't easily act on your feelings, it will keep you from harming yourself.

8. Speak with Someone You Trust

Often it can be a big help just having someone to whom you can express your feelings. This person could be anyone you trust, such as a friend, relative, clergy or therapist.

9. Distract Yourself

Often, coping with your suicidal feelings is simply a matter of waiting until the medication kicks in or your circumstances change. While you are waiting, however, it can help for you to find ways to distract yourself from the emotional pain. Make an agreement with yourself that just for a little while (as long as it takes to watch a movie, phone a friend or perhaps go to work), you will not focus on your darker thoughts. As you string together these shorter periods of distraction, enough time will eventually pass for you to start feeling better.

10. Remind Yourself of Past Experiences

Have you been through other episodes of depression? Think back to what steps you took that helped you then - and repeat them. Most important, remind yourself that the painful feelings eventually passed.

Sources:

Suicide Prevention Action Network. Substance abuse and suicide prevention: Evidence and implications. Retrieved February 8, 2012, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website: http://www.samhsa.gov/matrix2/508SuicidePreventionPaperFinal.pdf

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