Managing and Preventing Suicidal Thoughts
“I read your article on managing suicidal thoughts. Thank you, I’m pretty sure it saved my life.” – message received via email
“I read your article on managing suicidal thoughts. Thank you, I’m pretty sure it saved my life.” – message received via email
It’s never too early or too late to reach out. Recovery is possible, people do get through this and you can too.
Depression negatively affects our thoughts and compromises our ability to think clearly and make good decisions. Instead of seeing all of the options, we may only be able to see worst-case scenarios, while feeling hopeless to change them.
We all go through tough stretches in our lives, and at times many of us get to the point where we feel so lost that we wish we could run away or disappear. Depression feeds on thoughts like these, turning what may have been a more abstract idea of suicide like, “I wish I could escape from all this,” into something much more real and imminent like, “I want to end my life.”
Though suicidal thoughts may feel overwhelming and valid, they are not a true representation of the situations we are in, nor the opportunities available to us. Part of fighting depression is learning how to manage these thoughts.
Depression is like wearing sunglasses that only allow a dim and greyed-out view of the world. After wearing these sunglasses for a while, we may even start to forget what colours look like. But just because we can’t see them, it doesn’t mean colours no longer exist – recovery, hope, and reasons to live are real.
Instead of instinctively trusting our own perceptions (which we know are being affected by depression), we need to trust in what others who have been depressed and recovered show us – that recovery is possible, even when depression limits our ability to believe in it.
In order to challenge our thoughts and prove to ourselves that there are options other than suicide, it’s important to reach out and use any supports available to us (friends, family, doctors, mental health professionals).
Unfortunately, there are many barriers that prevent men from seeking support when feeling suicidal. Some of the biggest have to do with our own self-perceptions:
Suicidal thoughts have nothing to do with being weak, or broken, or having a character flaw.
Suicidal thoughts have much more to do with the severity of depression we’re facing.
There is no shame in having suicidal thoughts.
Asking for help doesn’t mean admitting defeat, it means taking control of our recovery.
How we feel at our worst does not define our self-worth, and shouldn't prevent us from reaching out.
Friends and family often want to help, if given the chance. When we are feeling better, we can be there to help them too.
Suicide is not inevitable and suicidal thoughts are not permanent.
Many people with previous suicidal thoughts and attempts go on to live long healthy lives.
This page is divided into two main topics, providing different strategies to overcome suicidal thoughts:
If you feel like you need to talk to someone right now, or if you feel like a danger to yourself or others, or you are not sure, please see our In a Crisis page.
Research and the experience of others show that moments of crisis (though they may feel incredibly intense) are often short-term and situation-specific.
Suicidal thoughts (and the intensity with which they occur) often follow a pattern similar to the chart shown here – increasing then decreasing over time.
This helps to show that if we can make it through the worst moments, our suicidal thoughts will eventually diminish. 
Try to think of suicidal thoughts like having a fresh wound; although it may hurt us a lot in the moment, the pain will eventually pass and our wound will heal. Given time, suicidal thoughts will dissipate.
Another way to view surviving a period of suicidal thoughts is like riding out a storm. Even the most powerful storms don’t last forever, so if we can stop ourselves from acting on our most extreme thoughts, we will eventually move toward a less painful and depressed mood. Once the storm is over, we can more clearly see other options we have for improving our lives.
Without the heavy weight of the moment of crisis pressing down on us, we won’t feel in constant pain, and things won’t feel so dire.
“Before my suicide attempt, I didn’t think I would act on my darkest thoughts. I would lie around ruminating all night, fantasizing about escaping from life. Now I understand where these thoughts can lead, and how important it is to talk to someone about them.” Age 32, Canada
The first step to managing suicidal thoughts is to notice them. Here are some common themes suicidal thoughts are often tied to (keep in mind these are examples of distorted thoughts and do not represent reality).
The more we think about anything, the stronger those thoughts and connections become. Ruminating on suicidal thoughts can make them much faster to access and recall, and in turn, harder to put aside.
To prevent these types of negative thought cycles, we want to start noticing when thoughts of suicide begin to creep in.
It takes practice, but over time we will get better at recognizing these types of thoughts, and once we can do that, we can use the tactics below to begin managing them.
When suicidal thoughts are at their worst, the goal is to calm ourselves down and survive. There are many ways to do this, and we can modify or add to the strategies below as we learn what works best for us.
Thoughts of suicide hit hardest when we’re in potentially dangerous areas or situations (e.g., waiting for a train, driving by ourselves, crossing a bridge, or being near guns, knives or medications).
Once we’re in a safe space, we can start to focus on controlling our breathing.
When we’re under stress, our heart rate increases and our breathing often becomes quick and shallow. By slowing our breathing, we take active control to reduce our heart rate – and in essence, reverse engineer a sense of calm.
This tactic can also help shift our attention away from suicidal thoughts. Here’s one way to try it:
These techniques help us put aside the past and future, focus on the now, and get through one moment at a time. Like controlling our breathing, they can be used anywhere and don’t require any outside help.
Don’t give power to suicidal thoughts
This strategy may sound simple, but it’s a very powerful technique that can shut down suicidal thoughts before they turn into a vicious cycle. It’s similar to ignoring a bully, who loses their power over us the less we pay attention to them.
By doing so, we are essentially saying to ourselves, “I’m thinking about ending my life. These thoughts are part of depression. I’m not going to engage with them. Instead, I’m going back to what I was doing.”
Use your senses
If the thoughts are too intense to get back to what we are doing, using our senses can help us get back on track.
Here’s a simple technique that works by tapping into our senses:
Another way to engage our senses is by doing a visualization. This means trying to imagine things in our mind, in a controlled way, which helps block out suicidal thoughts.
Grounding works by connecting us to our physical environment and reminding us of exactly where we are in the present moment, which takes us away from negative thoughts and worries about the past or future.
Grounding is similar to using our senses, but places more focus on our own physical sensations and connection to where we are.
A simple grounding technique is to focus on the parts of your body that are connected to the floor, or a chair where you are sitting. Feel the weight of your body and notice how the ground supports you. Try to feel rooted to where you are, strong in your stance, and take note of the sensations you feel. You can also do this while walking by feeling the ground under your feet, and noticing the textures of the ground with your feet.
Often when we feel overwhelmed, our muscles tense without us realizing it. Our shoulders or jaw may flex, or we may clench our fists. This is part of our ‘fight-or-flight’ response.
Like controlling our breathing, muscle relaxations help us take an active role in relaxing the physical manifestations of our stress response, and tell our body that it’s okay to calm down.
Do something enjoyable and relaxing
Another useful strategy is to shift our attention to something that we enjoy or find relaxing.
One of the hardest parts of managing suicidal thoughts is not having the hope or motivation to employ the strategies here.
Depression can rob us of hope. We may desperately want to reach out but feel like it won’t matter. But we all matter!
Even if we don’t believe it, we can trust that others have felt the same way before and have still been able to get better. They aren’t any better or different than us – we have the same capability to recover. As humans, we have an incredible capacity to heal.
We can’t let suicidal thoughts deprive us of our future – we need to give ourselves the opportunity to feel well again and live the rest of our lives.
See our Roadmap to Recovery to learn how to get started.
Simply having people around us can help us feel less alone by providing a sense of safety and distracting us from suicidal thoughts.
Even if we don’t think our suicidal thoughts are ‘that serious’ it’s important to reach out. In order for people to be able to help, we have to let them know what’s going on.
Even just saying our thoughts out loud can help loosen their grip on us. Other people can provide us with hope and often see options we haven’t thought of.
It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone is equipped to handle tough situations, so we should try to not be put off by reactions from others that aren’t as helpful as we might like or need.
Talking with a friend or family member can help, but they are often involved in the stresses that are bogging us down, making it hard to get a neutral perspective. Sometimes friends want to help but don’t have the capacity, or aren’t the best at providing non-judgmental support.
This is why talking to a mental health professional can make a huge difference and is often a major step in recovery.
If you haven’t spoken to anyone about your thoughts yet, a good place to start is by making an appointment with a family physician and/or trying to find a qualified therapist near you.
If you’re already seeing a mental health professional, reach out to them to set up another appointment so you can let them know how things are going and see if you may need additional support.
If you want to talk to someone now, see our page on how to get immediate support In a Crisis.
It can be very hard to think clearly when we’re in the middle of a crisis. Creating a Crisis Game Plan (sometimes referred to as a Suicide Safety Plan) helps puts all our ideas and strategies in a single place so we can easily access them when we need to.
It may seem unnecessary or extreme, but setting up a Crisis Game Plan has been shown to help reduce the risk of suicide, so it’s an essential step to take.
The act of creating a Crisis Game Plan can itself be a helpful exercise, reminding us of the people we have in our lives and the resources that are available to us.
Here’s our Guide to Making a Crisis Game Plan, including a template and example to help you get started.
Any work that we do to fight depression can also help to reduce the frequency and intensity of suicidal thoughts.
Our Roadmap to Recovery lays out the options for self-help strategies, building a support team, and how to reach out and connect with mental health professionals.
Our page on how to better identify, challenge, and reframe depressed thoughts can also help you manage suicidal thoughts.
The better we get at noticing our suicidal thoughts, the sooner we can get ahead of them before they get worse. This turns suicidal thoughts into a warning system that alerts us to when our mental health may be struggling and we need to reach out and take additional steps to improve our mental health.
“When I was severely depressed, I couldn’t remember a time in my life when I felt happy, it all felt fake. It was impossible to see a future where I would be able to recover and enjoy life again – but it wasn’t true. I had been happy before and I would be again.” Age 28, Canada
Convincing ourselves that recovery is possible can be tough. Here are some stories from men who have found themselves in a similar headspace while fighting depression and managed to get better.
We can learn to anticipate and limit our exposure to specific triggers or situations that set off suicidal thoughts.
Avoid websites or people that encourage suicide or suicidal thoughts
Sometimes people like to fantasize about suicide (as a means to ‘control’ and ‘escape’ their pain), but this is a dangerous game. The more we contemplate suicide, the more automatic those thoughts become.
Avoid drugs and alcohol
Anything that can affect your thoughts and mood, or make you more impulsive, can also pose a risk to your safety. So, if you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, it’s best to steer clear of any drugs (including alcohol) that haven’t been prescribed or approved of by your doctor.
Alcohol, marijuana, psychedelics, smoking and opioid use have been tied to increased risk for suicide.
Avoid engaging in reckless or impulsive behaviour
It’s not uncommon for men to engage in more risky behaviour than usual when they are feeling depressed. Watch out for behaviour that signals you aren’t as concerned for your own health as you normally would be, and avoid situations that increase the likelihood you will engage in risky or impulsive behaviour.
Everything we expose ourselves to can impact our mood and thoughts, sometimes without us even realizing it.