Man with suicidal thoughts

"HeadsUpGuys has made me realize I need to talk and reach out." - Male, 21, UK

Suicidal thoughts can be very difficult to deal with or understand. Sometimes they can be fleeting, but other times they can be stronger urges and fantasies that promise relief from seemingly unbearable pain. 

Even if you think you won’t ever act on them, all suicidal thoughts need to be taken seriously – the earlier you can address them the better.

Though it can be tough to remain hopeful, there are ways to overcome suicidal thoughts.

Here are some tips to fight back against thoughts about ending your life as they happen. We also have an article looking at longer term strategies on how to stop thinking about suicide.

1. Remove yourself from danger

Thoughts of suicide can hit hardest when you’re in a potentially dangerous area or situation (waiting for a skytrain, driving, standing on a balcony, or near guns, weapons, or other potentially harmful objects).

  • If this is the case, physically remove yourself from the area or situation in order to minimize the potential of acting on suicidal thoughts.

You can also ask a trusted friend or family member to put away potentially harmful instruments (e.g., weapons, rope) so you don’t have to go near them, or hold on to any extra medications until you need them.

2. Slow your breathing

Suicidal thoughts can be scary, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Slowing your breathing helps reduce your heart rate, while also shifting your attention away from whatever thoughts you’re having.

  • Take a few deep inhales and exhales to regain control of your breath – four seconds in, hold for four, four seconds out, hold for four – repeat. If four seconds is too long, start shorter and try to work your way up.

3. Re-focus your attention

There are many ways to do this and some will work better for you than others. The goal is to work towards shifting your attention away from the negative thoughts of hurting yourself onto something else. It can be tough at first, but the more you practice the more you’ll be able to distance yourself from these unwanted thoughts.

A. Visualizations

  • Focusing on breathing can help, especially when combined with visualizations. Imagine your lungs filling up with air, your diaphragm rising and falling. The more detail you add, the better.
  • If you are counting your breaths, you can also try to visualize writing out the numbers – 1,2,3,4… 1,2,3,4…
  • For some, imagining yourself in a safe and calming space, being with someone you love, or looking to your faith can help.

B. Use Your Senses

  • Close your eyes for a few moments and then open them. Focus your attention on whatever is around you.
  • Try describing what you see in as much detail as possible – what’s the texture of the ground, what colours are on the walls, what sounds can you hear? Imagine you’re writing a scene in a book and be as detailed as possible.
  • The more senses you use, the more you will be able to shift your focus away from painful thoughts.

C. Muscle relaxations

Often, when you feel overwhelmed your muscles tighten without realizing it. (Your shoulders or jaw may flex, or you may clench your hands into fists).

  • Focus on relaxing your muscles. Start with your head and slowly try to relax each muscle group working your way down (face, jaw, neck, shoulders, back, arms, legs, calves, etc).
  • You can use your hands to massage your neck or shoulders as well.

4. Reach out

In addition to the steps above, reaching out is crucial. Even if you don’t think the thoughts are that serious, talking about them with others is an important step to addressing and taking away the intensity of these thoughts. Surround yourself with people you care about, rather than shutting down and isolating yourself. For people to help – you have to let them know what’s going on.

  • Call a healthline or a friend and explain to them that you’re going through a particularly rough time and need their support.
    • Friends and family often visit people as they recover from illnesses like cancer or after surgery. The same type of support can help you with recovery from depression. Maybe a friend could come pick you up or stay with you that day or night. More on how to reach to a friend.
  • Don’t let worries or fears of being ‘locked up’ prevent you from reaching out and sharing your suicidal thoughts with others. There are a variety of professional services and levels of care that can help, including finding and talking to a therapist. Like treating other illnesses or injuries, for some guys hospital care is a crucial and temporary step needed for recovery. There is no shame in this. For more information see Our Guide to Therapy: For Men.

If you need more urgent support, don’t hesitate to call 911. Your safety is your first priority and there are professionals out there who want to help. More on how to reach out in a crisis.

5. Remind yourself of recovery

Part of recovering from depression is learning to overcome these types of thoughts and feelings, without getting further bogged down on yourself for having them.

Having suicidal thoughts can be alarming, but they do go away. Try to figure out the best strategies for you, so you can weather any storm.

Next Steps:

How to Stop Thinking About Suicide (in the long term)How to Reach out in a Crisis

Approved by the HeadsUpGuys Team - Combining lived experience, clinical practice, and research expertise. Medically reviewed by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk.
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