For some, the very thought of suicide feels shocking to consider.
But suicidal thoughts are actually common. Many people experience ongoing bouts of such distorted thinking.
Even if we are aware that suicidal thoughts are a sign we need to change things, NOT end things, and we know they eventually go? It’s exhausting.
How can you best handle your suicidal thoughts next time they hit? And what habits can start to even break the cycle of suicidal thinking?
**If you think you are about to act on your suicidal thoughts, go to your nearest A&E, call emergency services, or use one of the various free UK helplines. You might also want to immediately try the tips in our piece, ‘How to Handle Self Harming Urges.”
How to Manage Suicidal Thinking
1. Constantly remind yourself that you are NOT your thoughts.
Suicidal thoughts increase if we mistake what we think for who we are. We enter a cycle of shame that leads to more self-destructive thinking. But the faster we label them as ‘just thoughts’, the faster they die down.
A bad thought is just a bad thought. Everyone on the planet has bad thoughts now and then. A thought itself is not a crime, it does not define you, and it has no real power unless you choose to act on it.
Can’t believe you are more than your thoughts? Try this mindfulness experiment. Sit quietly and try to hear your thinking. Work to notice each thought then let it pass without judging it. It can help to think of observing clouds in the sky floating by.
Who is it that is observing the thoughts? Is that not also you? The you that is beyond your thoughts?
A powerful technique to clear out negative thoughts can be to unload your thoughts on sheets of paper and promise yourself to tear up the pages afterwards.
Let yourself write every horrible thing that rises up. It doesn’t matter if it’ s legible, or crazed, or really mean, or something you can’t believe you actually wrote. Nobody else is going to read it (of course do rip it all up afterwards!).
[You can try CBT no matter where you are in the world by booking a qualified Skype therapist on our sister site, harleytherapy.com.]
One such CBT tool is a ‘thought chart’. By repeatedly tracking and questioning your thoughts, you train your brain to find better thoughts (try it now by reading our article “Balanced Thinking and CBT“).
Or try this. Write down five of your suicidal thoughts. Next to each one write down its exact opposite. Then find and write a statement that is in-between the two extremes.
For example, “Everyone hates me and wants me gone” becomes, “Everyone loves me and wants me around”. The in-between is, “I am not friends with everyone, but there are people who like being around me.”
How much better does this balanced thought feel than the original? Can you see how suicidal thoughts tend to be assumptions over facts?
4. Exchange thoughts for sensations.
Suicidal thoughts tend to be past based (I failed, I got hurt) and future-focused (nothing will change, I will disappoint everyone).
Sensations, on the other hand, bring us away from our suicidal thoughts and directly into the present moment. And no matter how awful the past or how much we fear the future, most of us can manage living through just this now moment.
Try a ‘sensation experience’ right now. Breathe deeply several times, relaxing your shoulders. Then try to notice five visual details around you. Followed by a sound, a taste, a touch feeling, a smell. How do you feel?
Other ways to use sensation to counter thought include:
*Be careful not to make suicidal thoughts worse by choosing negative sensory experiences such as alcohol, drugs, bingeing on sad music, and overeating.
5. Be present-focused.
The best technique here is mindfulness. Now used by many therapists, it is proven by research to help with anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Even just ten minutes a day can see your suicidal thinking start to lessen.
This is not at all about ‘being positive’ (which is useless and offensive advice when we feel depressed).
It’s about not letting suicidal thoughts trick you into a limited perspective of who you really are, and what possibilities actually exist for you, and about finding a glimmer of the you that is free from such thoughts.
if you just won the lottery, would you still have suicidal thoughts?
what would your five year-old self say to you right now? Your best friend?
If you woke up with a new identity in a city you’ve always wanted to live in, how would you feel?
What can you learn from these questions about what really drives yournegative thinking? About the needs and desires you have been overlooking? Did you discover any new possibilities you could start setting goals around?
Yes, it can seem like pulling teeth to go out when you are depressed. And no, it’s not a good idea to call toxic friends or exes.
But if there are any ways you can positively connect with others, it’s one of the best antidotes to suicidal thinking.
If you know a cafe where the baristas are always friendly, or a local meet up for dog owners you’ve been to, push yourself to get out.
If you have struggled long-term with suicidal thoughts, seriously consider volunteering. Suicidal thoughts tell us we have no value, and volunteering shows that you do. It’s also shown by research to elevate feelings of wellbeing (read our piece on the “Benefits of Volunteering“.)
Constantly having suicidal thoughts is more than enough of a reason to seek professional support.
A counsellor or psychotherapist will not judge you for your suicidal thoughts. They will instead help you get to the root of what is causing such thoughts, and can help you keep on track with your efforts to think in more helpful ways.