HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF WHEN YOU FEEL SUICIDAL:
1. Remind yourself that this will pass.
Just because things feel horrible and unfixable now doesn’t mean that they will always be. The pain you’re feeling won’t last forever. It will pass. Maybe not tonight. Maybe not tomorrow, or the day after that. But sometime soon, it will pass. It always does. Feelings are like waves. They come in strong, rise, peak, and then fade. The pain you feel now is no exception. In the moment when you feel incapacitated by your pain, it’s hard to remember this. But I promise with all my heart that it’s true. This hurt and despair will not last forever. It can and will pass.
2. Recognize all the people you have to live for.
You may not be able to feel it now, but the truth is that you are so loved. You are valued and cherished and important to countless people. Between your close family and friends; old classmates and peers who would feel heartbroken at the thought of never having the chance to reconnect and rekindle a friendship; past and current teachers, mentors, and employers who formed connections with you; and all of the people whose lives you have touched just by smiling at them during a difficult day, asking them how they were doing when they felt invisible, or reaching out when they were struggling.
You have made a difference in these people’s lives simply by existing and being yourself. To them you are important, and to them, you matter. It may not seem true in this moment, but their love is real, and without you in this world, they would be devastated and feel such incredible loss. Don’t allow your pain to discount these people or their love for you.
3. Identify what triggered your suicidal thoughts and urges.
Feeling suicidal doesn’t come out of nowhere. It is always triggered by a certain event or encounter, or series of painful experiences. Try to back track and figure out when you started hurting, and know that whatever is causing you this level of pain and hopelessness, it is only temporary. Something happened that wounded you, and although that something can’t be forgotten, it can be resolved. You may be wounded, but you aren’t broken. You can and will heal. It starts by figuring out what caused your pain and recognizing what is perpetuating it.
4. Identify what you need to heal.
What need to you have that isn’t being met? Whether it’s feeling loved and accepted, the sense of belonging and being connected, a group of friends to feel less alone, closure from a painful experience, someone to share your feelings with, feeling seen and heard and understood, confronting someone who has hurt you, apologizing to someone you’ve hurt, or finding a sense of purpose and meaning for your life—identify what you need to heal and make a list of ways to get those needs met.
That could mean asking for what you need from a support person, setting boundaries and limits with people, letting go of negative people from your life and finding new people who make you feel loved and accepted, incorporating more of what you’re passionate about into your life, reaching out and giving yourself permission to get more support, changing your environment to one that is conducive to your happiness and wellbeing, or simply taking more time for yourself each day. Whatever it is, figure out what you need and give yourself permission to get it.
5. Reach out and let people know what’s going on.
I know that you want to be strong for the people you love. I know that you want to be able to take care of yourself because you’re worried about burdening people with your pain. But I also know that keeping how you feel a secret doesn’t make you feel any better. It makes you feel more miserable, more hopeless, and more alone.
Being strong doesn’t mean denying yourself help. It doesn’t mean perpetuating your pain or neglecting your needs. And it doesn’t mean hiding away your hurt and pretending that everything is okay. Being strong means allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It means giving yourself permission to feel your feelings, even when they are painful. It means allowing your needs to get met by asking for help, even when you’re afraid of being a burden. And it means taking care of yourself, even when you feel you don’t deserve to be taken care of.
Reaching out isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s self-care. It doesn’t make you incapable or inadequate — it makes you human. We all struggle and have a difficult time coping. We all feel lost and scared and hopeless. And at some point, we all need help. You are no exception to that. You deserve to get support when you need it. So don’t stay silent. Speak up and use your voice. Let the people who love you know what’s going on. They want to help, but they can’t and have no way of knowing that you’re hurting unless you tell them.
6. Surround yourself with positive people who make you feel loved.
When you’re feeling this hopeless and miserable, having toxic people in your life is the last thing you need. So let go of the negative people in your life who make you feel unsafe, judged, and inadequate, and starting seeking out and surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself.
These are the people who love and accept you without conditions. The people who don’t allow your struggles to discount who you are as a person. The people who don’t judge you for struggling and don’t abandon you just because things get difficult. People who may not understand your pain or how to help, but who want to support you and be there regardless because they care for you. These are the people who matter. Give yourself permission to let go of the rest. You don’t need anyone in your life who brings you down or makes you feel small.
7. Make a list of reasons to live.
When life starts feeling meaningless and without hope, it can be helpful to make a list of reasons to keep holding on.
Between breaking the hearts and lives of the people who love you; missing out on major life experiences and opportunities; robbing yourself of the chance to travel the world, go on adventures, and explore the beauty that exists around you; never getting the chance to fall in love or practice the things you’re passionate about; missing out on the growth and development of the lives of people you care about; abandoning your pets; never getting the chance to learn new things or discover and refine certain talents and strengths you possess; to robbing yourself of the chance to discover that things can get better, there is so much in this world to live for.
Yes, there is a lot of pain and struggle in your life; but there is also a lot to keep fighting for. Don’t allow your darkness to make you forget all the good that still exists. If you find yourself having a difficult time coming up with a list of reasons for yourself, think of what reasons you would give to a friend or loved one if they felt suicidal.
8. Create a safety plan.
If you reach a point where you don’t feel you can prevent yourself from harm, it’s absolutely vital to have a plan. Whether that means immediately calling your therapist or psychiatrist to set up an emergency session, giving someone you trust all the things you could use to hurt yourself, having a list of support people available to call until you can find someone who will stay by your side and not leave you alone, going through a list of coping mechanisms to distract yourself, getting out of your house and into a safe place, or calling 911, you have to come up with a plan ahead of time to keep yourself safe.
9. Seek help.
I know that asking for help is difficult. I know that it can induce a lot of shame, and that the idea of opening up to a stranger feels absolutely terrifying and out of the question. But as someone who has been in this position, many times, I also know that the first step to feeling better is reaching out and seeking professional help.
You can’t heal your own darkness when you’re already in its depths. You need an outside person to guide you. Someone who has been trained to help people in your position battle their demons. Someone who understands and has the skills and resources to support you and provide you with a safe space to talk about your feelings, identify your underlying issues, and find ways to cope with and heal from the pain.
If you don’t have access to a mental health worker, know that there are other alternatives. You can call a suicide hotline, talk with a school counselor, join an online help group to give and receive support, reach out to a resident advisor or teacher, or join a local support group. No matter how hopeless things seem, there are always options and there is always hope.
If you’re struggling and hurting, you deserve to get support. You deserve to be happy and find freedom from this pain. You deserve these things because you’re exist and therefore, you’re important and you matter. Your life matters and your healing matters. There are people and resources available to help you; you just have to give yourself permission to utilize them.
10. Don’t give up.
Just because your life feels unbearable now doesn’t mean that it will feel this way forever. Try to remind yourself of all the times in the past when you felt miserable and hopeless and lost and how each time, the pain eventually passed and life worked itself out — maybe not in the way you imagined, but things got better nonetheless. Now is no exception. This pain you feel can and will pass. If you give up now though, you’ll never discover that better place — so keep holding on.
I know that you’re in pain. I know that you feel worthless and defeated, but that isn’t a reason to give up. It’s a reason to hold on. Because when things are this awful, they can only get better. When you’re at rock bottom, the only place left to go is up. You can use this low place you’re at as a foundation to rebuild your life and heal. It isn’t easy, by any means, but it’s absolutely possible. You just have to believe that there is more to life than this pain you feel. And you have to believe that you are deserving of discovering it.