Many factors can affect your mental health. And it’s common to feel down from time to time. School, work, family conflict, abuse, isolation, breakups and losses are some examples of things that might contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed, defeated, isolated, uncomfortable and more. Things like this may start to feel unbearable if you’re unsure about what to do next, feel unsupported and / or find your usual coping strategies aren’t working for you. When people feel this way, they may have thoughts of suicide.
Having thoughts about death / dying can be scary and confusing. While experiencing thoughts about ending your life may not necessarily mean you want to die, it can be a major warning sign. It can be helpful to get support when you start to notice yourself having thoughts of suicide, death or dying. With a range of supports and coping strategies that work for you, it’s possible to create a safer environment for yourself and lead a more fulfilling life. Here, Kids Help Phone shares coping strategies for navigating thoughts of suicide, prompts you can follow to create a safety plan (for moments when you feel stressed, overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless, etc.) and tips for talking to others for support.
If you’re having thoughts about suicide right now, help is available. You can connect with Kids Help Phone for support 24/7. If you’re thinking about acting on your thoughts, or feel you may be in danger of harming yourself, you can also contact the emergency / community services or mobile crisis support team (if available) in your area for help. You can find more information about support programs and services available nearest you on Resources Around Me. No matter how you feel inside, you’re not alone.
How can I cope with thoughts of suicide in the moment?
Many people experience thoughts of suicide. Suicide is one of the most common topics young people contact Kids Help Phone about, too. Try to keep in mind that having thoughts of suicide isn’t a sign of personal failure, weakness or a character flaw. It may actually be a sign to you that you need to connect for support. If you start to notice you’re thinking about suicide, here are a few things you can try to cope in the moment:
- name your emotions (e.g. “I’m feeling sad, angry, afraid…,” etc.) to help you remind yourself you’re more than what you’re feeling in this moment and the emotions you’re experiencing will pass
- practise mindfulness by noticing what’s happening in your body and mind to reflect on how you’re feeling without judgment
- try making a list of things you’re good at, the qualities you have that you’re most proud of and / or any personal accomplishments (or anything else that’s going well in your life) that may be overshadowed by thoughts of suicide
- try grounding yourself by focusing on a breathing exercise and / or releasing tension in your body
- try colouring, drawing, journaling, watching a funny show, listening to music or a podcast, reading a book, making your favourite food, attending a community event, connecting with nature, playing your favourite sport, making crafts or doing something else you enjoy to refocus your emotions, energy and attention
- try taking a break from scrolling if you haven’t been feeling good on social media (or try following a new account that inspires you!)
- visualize your favourite place and ask yourself, “What does it look like?” “How does it feel?” “What do I notice?” “What am I doing?” (For help with visualization, you can try taking a mental vacation with Anxiety Canada.)
- consider spending time with someone you care about (virtually or in person)
- reflect on what you’re thankful for and try practising gratitude (tips from mindyourmind)
You can also try challenging your thoughts by asking yourself if they’re helpful and / or true. (Sometimes, our thoughts about ourselves / situations aren’t facts, even though they might seem like they are.) It may also help to remember you aren’t your thoughts. You can try switching less helpful thoughts by telling yourself more helpful ones (some people call this self-talk). For example, you may try telling yourself:
- “I’m more than my thoughts.”
- “My thoughts don’t control me.”
- “I can control my thoughts.”
- “I’m not alone.”
- “These thoughts will pass.”
- “These feelings are temporary.”
- “There are people who love and care about me.”
If you have a safety plan for coping with thoughts of suicide, you can refer to it for more coping strategies and supportive resources that often work for you. If you don’t have a safety plan, we invite you to use the prompts below to create your own plan that you can refer to whenever you need it.
How can I create a safety plan to cope with thoughts of suicide?
Creating a safety plan ahead of time (e.g. when you’re feeling calm, when you’re more in control of your thoughts, etc.) may help you cope if / when you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide. You may find it helpful to fill out your safety plan with someone you trust (e.g. one of Kids Help Phone’s professional counsellors or trained, volunteer crisis responders, a family / community member, an Elder, etc.) who may be able to offer perspective, provide suggestions and keep a copy of your safety plan (if you’re comfortable). Consider where you want to keep your plan in a place you’ll remember (e.g. on a computer / phone / tablet, in a drawer, as a voice recording, in your school bag, under your mattress, etc.).
Your safety plan is unique to you and it’s OK if any examples offered in this article don’t apply to you. For your plan to be helpful when you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide, we encourage you to make your plan as specific to you and your life as possible. It’s OK if your plan changes over time as you learn about / practise coping strategies and / or as your situation evolves.
Before creating a safety plan, it can be helpful to consider what “safety” means to you. Safety may look and feel different for everyone. You can start by asking yourself, “What does safety mean to me? Is it a feeling in my body? A place / person / state of mind / gesture?” As you work through the prompts below, it might help you to keep in mind what safety may feel like for you, too, (or how you hope it may feel) and how you can take big or small actions toward achieving that feeling.
The image below shows one example of how you can format your safety plan. You can map out your plan in any other way that may work for you, too. As you continue to scroll through this page, you can learn more about how to fill it out, including examples. Try to keep in mind this resource isn’t supposed to tell you what to do — you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do or follow the prompts exactly. This is simply a guide.
You can tap on the image below to download and fill out your own safety plan. You can begin by filling it out on your device and then save / print / take a photo of it. Or you can start by downloading it and then printing a copy to fill out offline. You can also come back to this tool any time if you’re unable to save / print a copy now.
Identify what may bring up thoughts of suicide for you
If you’ve experienced thoughts of suicide before, you may be able to recognize specific patterns, situations and / or sources of stress that often lead to changes in your mental health. You may consider asking yourself, “When do I usually feel this way?” and / or “Where do I often experience these thoughts?” Some examples of sources of stress may include experiences of abuse, breakups, comparing yourself to others, etc. Knowing what contributes to feeling stressed, overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless, etc. can be important information to help you learn when you might need to use your coping strategies and / or get support.
- Things that may bring up thoughts of suicide for me:
Notice signs that tell you when you may need support
Similar to identifying sources of stress, you may notice certain thoughts, specific feelings, particular behaviours and / or unique body sensations that signal a change in your mental health and ability to cope. This could include withdrawing from others (spending more time alone), a change in your mood, losing interest in things you usually enjoy, having difficulty sleeping or sleeping more often, skipping school / work, not engaging in your usual hygiene practices, unhelpful thoughts, etc. Experiencing / noticing each of these on their own may not mean you’re going to act on thoughts of suicide. Each person’s signs that they may need support are unique, and you know yours best. By becoming aware of your own signals, you may have a better understanding of when to try a coping strategy and / or connect for support.
- Things that tell me I may need support:
Reflect on the things that give you a reason to live
To cope with thoughts of suicide in the moment, you can try making a list of things you’re living for. Your reasons could include (but don’t have to be limited by) your answers to the following questions: What brings you joy? Who are the people / places / creatures that uplift you? What are your interests, hobbies and / or passions? What are you proud of?
- Things that give me a reason to live:
Remind yourself of your hopes for the future
Imagine things you dream about achieving. What are your goals / hopes for the future? Where would you like to be in your life in five years? What would you like to be doing in your life in 10 years? While things may feel difficult right now, you may find it helpful to consider how your future could be different from your current situation.
- My hopes for the future:
Use your coping strategies to manage difficult thoughts / feelings in the moment
Reflect on strategies you find most helpful to work through difficult thoughts / feelings. What could be most helpful to try in the moment when you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide? These can be things such as chatting with someone you trust, playing your favourite sport / game, watching a show, listening to / playing music, moving your body, meditating, connecting with nature, making art, engaging in a spiritual practice, etc. These might also include any of the coping strategies listed above under, “How can I cope with thoughts of suicide in the moment?” You may want to consider having back-up strategies listed in your safety plan to try if something that usually works isn’t helping anymore.
- Ways I can manage difficult thoughts / feelings in the moment:
Create a safer space for yourself
If you feel worried that you may act on thoughts of suicide, you can consider ways to take care of yourself in the moment wherever you are. If you feel unsafe being on your own (maybe thoughts of suicide come up more for you when no one else is around), try to think of places you can go to and feel comfortable in outside of your space. This could be a friend / family / community member’s house, your school, a community centre, a place of worship, a library, a youth shelter or any other place where you can find support / be around other people. If you’re unable to get to any of these places in the moment, you may consider ways of creating physical safety for yourself in your space (e.g. by going outside or into another room, etc.). You can also consider ways to distance yourself from things that you could use to cause harm (e.g. sharp objects, substances, etc.) or ask someone you trust to restrict your access to these things. If you’re using substances / self-injuring, it may be helpful to learn about alternatives so you may feel the sense of relief / control you’re seeking while taking care of yourself.
- Things I can do to create a safer space for myself in the moment:
List your personal / professional supports
If you find it difficult to manage your thoughts / feelings on your own, it can be helpful to know whom you can connect with for help when you need it. You can do this by making a list of the names and contact details of people you trust who can support you. Your list could include friends, family / community members, teachers, community workers, health-care providers, Elders, other safe adults, etc. You can get specific about how each person can help (e.g. “this person helps distract me,” “this person is a great listener,” “this person can give me a ride to an appointment,” etc.). You may also consider including people you can connect with urgently if you’re planning to act on thoughts of suicide (e.g. someone who can help you get professional support as soon as possible, bring you to an emergency room, etc.). You can consider alternatives for support ahead of time (i.e. if the first person in your plan isn’t available, who would be the second person on your list?). You may also want to consider how you can contact each person (e.g. call / text, chat online, go to their house, write them a letter, etc.).
Try to keep in mind you can contact Kids Help Phone’s e-mental health services 24/7 for free, confidential support in English and French. You can also use our Resources Around Me database to search for support services nearest your area.
- People / services I can connect with for support:
How can I have a conversation with someone I trust about thoughts of suicide?
It’s understandable you may want to close yourself off from the rest of the world / withdraw from people around you if you’re having thoughts of suicide. The topic of suicide can bring up feelings of shame and confusion too, which can make it even more difficult to talk about openly. It demonstrates courage to open up (share) about something that can be so painful. Although it may be difficult, talking with someone you trust about what you’re going through may be helpful. You can find some tips on how to do that below on this page.
Choose someone you trust
Think of a person in your life whom you feel comfortable opening up to — someone you trust and feel respected around. You can also refer to the list of supports in your safety plan (if you’ve created one). Maybe connecting with a professional anonymously feels the safest for you — that’s OK. You can do this by contacting Kids Help Phone’s professional counsellors over the phone at 1-800-668-6868 or through Live Chat at KidsHelpPhone.ca. Even though you may feel alone, someone is available to listen.
Try to keep in mind the person you choose to share with may have a range of reactions to what you’re saying. If they don’t react in a way you expect, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t care about what you’re going through. They may not know what to do or how to help. If you don’t feel like the conversation is supportive, try not to lose hope. You can come back to the conversation later or try connecting with someone else to get the help you need by referring to your safety plan (if you have one) or contacting Kids Help Phone or a safe adult. Your thoughts and feelings are important and you deserve to feel supported.
Prepare for your chat
It’s OK if you do or don’t know how to start a conversation. Thinking through some ideas in advance (and / or practising letter writing / journaling) can help you think more clearly in the moment if you’re nervous / stressed. Ahead of time, you can tell the person that you need to talk about something serious. Try to find a time when you aren’t rushed and there’ll be no or little interruptions. Think about what your needs and / or hopes for the conversation are. For example, consider if you want the person to listen, help you come up with ways to safety plan, connect you with support, etc. It may help to tell this to the person at the start of the conversation so they know your expectations.
Have your discussion
Being open during the conversation may help the person listening more fully understand what you’re going through and know how to better support you. This could include telling them if you have thoughts of suicide, if you’ve taken any actions so far and / or if you’re planning to take action in the near future.
Where can I find more info, tools and coping strategies from Kids Help Phone?
Where can I find more info, tools and coping strategies from other trusted organizations across Canada?
- Understanding Suicide (Talk Suicide Canada)
- I’m Having Thoughts of Suicide (Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention)
- Suicide Awareness (mindyourmind)
- Preventing Suicide (Canadian Mental Health Association)
- Wall of Hope (Bridge the gapp)
If you’re having thoughts of suicide, you don’t have to navigate them on your own. You can refer to your safety plan (if you have one), try different coping strategies and / or talk to a safe adult. You can also connect with a professional counsellor or trained, volunteer crisis responder at Kids Help Phone. There’s always room for your feelings here.