What To Do When You’re Feeling Hopeless or Thinking About Suicide
Sometimes we experience so much pain, loss, or numbness that we start to feel hopeless —like there is no way out of how we’re feeling. When we feel hopeless or overwhelmed, we may start to have thoughts of suicide. Suicidal thoughts are temporary, and with the right treatment and support, you can overcome feeling suicidal.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately by calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.
What Suicidal Thoughts Feel Like
Suicidal thoughts can range from passing thoughts about death—like wondering “what does it feel like to die?”—to specific plans about suicide—for example, thinking about how and when to end one’s life. Even passing thoughts of suicide are cause for concern, as they can get worse if they are not addressed. If you are struggling with any of these feelings or behaviors, it is time to reach out for support:
- Feeling disconnected from others or withdrawing from friends and family
- Feeling trapped in an intolerable situation
- Feeling like a burden to others or telling others that they would be better off without you
- Thinking, talking, or posting online about death or violence
What to Do if Your Suicidal Feelings Get Worse
If you are already having suicidal thoughts, big life changes or tragic events—like a death in the family or getting laid off from a job—can cause those feelings to become more intense or more frequent. If you feel like your suicidal thoughts are getting worse, here are some warning signs to look out for:
Escalating dangerous behaviors
- Driving recklessly, such as driving under the influence or driving without a seat belt
- Increasing drug or alcohol use
- Engaging in unsafe sex
- Starting or escalating self-injury
- Changes in diet, either restricting your eating or binge eating
- Changes in sleep patterns, either sleeping too much or too little
Drastic changes in mood
- Experiencing mood swings of extreme sadness, rage, or anxiety
- Feeling increased irritability or agitation
- A sudden shift in behavior from agitated or angry to calm or even cheerful. While it may seem like an improvement, this can be a warning signal for a suicide attempt because it can signal being are “at peace” with ending life. If you start to feel this way, seek help immediately.
If you experience a loss or sudden life change, or if you experience any of these changes in your mood or behavior, reach out to your support system for help. If you notice these behaviors in a friend or loved one, check in with them, tell them what you’ve noticed, and ask if they need help.
Tips for Managing Suicidal Thoughts
Suicidal thoughts are temporary, and it is possible to overcome them with the right treatment. It is crucial to seek help from trained mental health professionals who can help you before your behavior escalates to a suicide attempt. If you aren’t sure where to start, start with who, where, and how:
- Who to reach out to for help: People who are struggling with suicidal thoughts need a strong support network. Ask for help from friends, adults you trust, and mental health professionals like a therapist, psychiatrist, or school counselor.
- Where to find help: Professional help is needed to deal with suicidal thoughts. If you need professional help and don’t know where to begin, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.
- How to ask for help: Be direct. Say things like, “I am having suicidal thoughts” or “I am feeling suicidal. I want to talk about it but I’m not sure how.”
Once you have professionals to help you, together you can assess your risks and develop a treatment plan.
Identify the Source of Suicidal Thoughts
Finding the source of suicidal thoughts or feelings can be difficult, and can sometimes bring up other difficult issues to work through. Together with a therapist or counselor, try asking yourself questions like:
- “When is the first time I can remember feeling like this?”
- “Was there an event or change in my life before I started feeling like this?” Remember, big life changes or traumatic events can make suicidal feelings worse. The intensity of these feelings often subside over time.
- “Do I feel worse after a particular trigger?” and “Is this ‘trigger’ a person, an experience, or a certain topic?” These questions can help you figure out how to reduce stress or avoid certain situations that trigger suicidal thoughts.
- “Is there anything that makes me feel better or forget about my suicidal thoughts?” This question can help you explore new coping strategies other than thoughts of suicide.
Create a Contact List
Everyone who is grappling with feeling suicidal needs a support network. Create a list of contact information for people who can provide you with different kinds of support, such as a therapist, your parents, close friends, or other trusted adults like a school counselor.
In case of emergencies, this contact list should also include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
Restrict Your Means of Self-Injury and Suicide
While you are in treatment for suicidal thoughts or behaviors, it is good to restrict access to dangerous substances or tools that can be used to attempt suicide. If you need help doing this, ask a person you trust to remove or restrict your access to things like knives, firearms, or alcohol. For medications prescribed to you by a doctor, ask someone you trust to store medications for you in a secure place and to supervise you taking your medication.
Reduce Your Stress
Once you have a better idea of the stressors or triggers that cause you to have suicidal thoughts, it’s important to find new ways to reduce your stress and cope with negative feelings. Some recommended ways are:
- Keep a social schedule. Have regular activities with people in your social circle, like weekly phone calls, coffee dates, study groups, or group exercise classes.
- Try a new hobby. Creative hobbies like painting, drawing, writing, or singing can help you express your feelings in a new way.
- Keep a journal. Use a journal to write down your thoughts and feelings, both the negative and positive.
- Exercise. Move your body in fun ways to release “feel good” chemicals. Try not to judge your fitness level, just find a way of moving your body that’s fun for you (e.g., dance, walk, do a Youtube fitness video, or go to the gym)
- Practice mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness meditations bring your attention to your breath and remaining present and can help lower your anxiety levels.
- Spend time outdoors. Walk or sit in nature (backyards, parks, green spaces).
- Engage your senses. Focusing on what you can see, smell, taste, hear, and touch can help you stay in the moment. Look at art you think is beautiful, listen to music you enjoy, use soaps that smell good, cuddle with soft stuffed animals or blankets, and keep your favorite snacks handy.
- Make a “coping kit” you can use on difficult days. Add foods and other items that give you comfort. Add photos of your friends and loved ones to look at and kind notes to yourself to read when you are struggling.
Tips for Adjusting Treatment if Needed
Seeking help for suicidal thoughts can feel like a relief, but it can also feel daunting. Treatment is a long process, and it’s important to give the treatment plenty of time. If you are in treatment and your suicidal thoughts aren’t going away—or if they are getting worse—it may be time to make changes. With your mental health support system, you can begin to be honest about your experience.
Be Honest and Ask Questions
You and your therapist or counselor both have a common goal: to help you overcome your suicidal thoughts. So if you are still experiencing suicidal thoughts or feeling suicidal, it’s important to tell your therapist, even if it feels scary or overwhelming.
You can ask questions about your treatment. While many of us don’t want our therapist to feel like they’re not doing a “good job,” being honest about what’s not working for you can help them put you on a plan that may work better. Ask questions like:
- “What would you add to my current plan that could help me decrease these thoughts?”
- “What do you think is working? I think [part of the treatment plan] is helpful, but I don’t think [other parts of the plan] are helping me.”
- “From your perspective, why do you think my condition is not improving?”
Consider Changing Therapists
After you talk to your therapist, if you feel that they are not the best for you, consider making a change. Finding a new counselor or therapist can be disruptive to your treatment, and not always an option depending on different factors, like cost and availability. However, different therapists have different methods, and if your current treatment plan is not helping, it may be worth exploring those different methods.
Consider Lifestyle Changes
There are a number of factors that influence mental health. In addition to therapy, look at your exercise routine, diet, sleeping patterns, and medications. If your treatment plan doesn’t address these parts of your life, broaden the plan to include them. Explore how medication might help by consulting a psychiatrist who will review medication options, talk to you about side effects, and assess medication options.
How to Help a Friend Who is Feeling Suicidal
If you are concerned that a friend is having thoughts of suicide but you don’t know if they are making concreate plans, calmly and directly express your concern. Ask them something like, “I’ve noticed that you’re going through a really hard time. I am concerned that you may be considering suicide. Are you having suicidal thoughts or feeling suicidal?” This may be a difficult conversation to have, but it’s important. And, it is important to understand that research clearly shows that asking someone about suicide does not inspire suicidal thoughts.
If a friend confides in you that they are having thoughts of suicide or are planning to attempt suicide, there are some ways you can help:
- Be supportive, not judgmental. Shaming or judging your friend’s thoughts, or trying to convince them that suicide is “bad” or “immoral,” may make them feel worse. They may isolate themselves further, which makes it harder to get help.
- Encourage them to seek help from a parent, therapist, doctor, or guidance counselor. If they don’t know who to talk to, encourage them to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text 741741 for a free and confidential conversation at any time.
- Do not promise to keep it a secret. If your friend is feeling suicidal, they may feel like they need to keep it a secret—but that prevents them from getting the help they need. If they tell you, let them know you need to tell a trusted adult for their own safety. Encourage them to tell someone themselves.
- Help them reach out for support. For example, if you’re able to, offer to help them find a therapist or go with them to their first appointment. Offering to be present for them during a difficult time for them can be very encouraging.
- Encourage them to stay away from mood-altering substances like alcohol and drugs. Using substances recklessly can be a sign that someone is moving from suicidal thoughts to suicidal behaviors.
- If you feel safe doing so, remove dangerous items like knives, firearms, or medications not prescribed by a doctor that your friend might use to attempt suicide.