Learning how to survive the worst of depression.

Suicidal thoughts can be very difficult to deal with or understand. Sometimes they can be fleeting, but other times they can be stronger urges or fantasies that promise relief from seemingly unbearable pain. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome suicidal thoughts that can move you away from hurting yourself and towards recovery.

Though you may think you will never act on them, all suicidal thoughts need to be taken seriously.

Here are some tips to overcome thoughts about ending your life.

1. Remove yourself from danger or (if safe) stay where you are

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).

  • When this happens, physically move or back away from the area or situation in order to minimize the potential of acting on suicidal thoughts.

Don’t take unnecessary risks by having weapons or extra medications around – ask a friend or family member to keep or put them away.

2. Slow your breathing

Slowing your breathing helps slow your heart rate and supplies more oxygen to your brain, 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.

3. Re-focus

There are different ways to do this and some may work better than others for you. Work toward distancing yourself (i.e., shifting attention away) from the negative thoughts of hurting yourself.

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 the numbers.
  • 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 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 make your hands into fists).

  • Focus on relaxing your muscles. Start with your head and 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

If using the techniques above don’t help alleviate the intensity of your suicidal thoughts, it’s time to reach out. Even if you don’t think the thoughts were that serious, reaching out to others is a good habit to get into. Surround yourself with people you care about, rather than shutting down and isolating yourself. The people you care about want to help – 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. See how to “Reach Out.”
  • Don’t let worries or fears of being ‘locked up’ prevent you from reaching out and sharing suicidal thoughts with others. There are a variety of professional services and levels of care that can help. Like treating other illness or injuries, for some guys hospital care is a crucial and temporary step needed for recovery. 
  • If you need more urgent support, don’t hesitate to call 911. Your safety is your first priority and there are professionals out there to help. See 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 down on yourself for having them.

  • Remind yourself that recovery is possible. Many men have had similar thoughts and feelings about suicide, and survived – even men who have tried to take their lives multiple times have been able to recover.

HeadsUpGuys is a website dedicated to fighting depression in men. Our site features practical tips, information about professional services and stories of recovery. It also has a self-check tool that can help determine whether or not depression may be affecting you.

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