Suicidal thoughts can be very frightening. If you do want to end your life, the thoughts and emotions you feel right now probably seem unbearable. Perhaps you feel worthless, like no-one cares about you, or that you're not even worth caring about. Perhaps you feel sadness, anger, shame, self-hate, or complete hopelessness.
Sometimes, suicide feels like the only way to get away from those overwhelmingly dark feelings.
Everyone has different reasons for wanting to end their lives and some people feel like they have no reason at all. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, then you should try to talk about them before making any decisions. Even if you think no-one wants to listen, the truth is - they do.
If you live in the UK, you can call Samaritans for free on 116 123 now to talk to someone. The person on the other end of the line doesn't know who you are, they're not going to send the police round, they aren't going to judge you and they aren't going to tell any of your friends or family about how you feel. They are simply there to listen to anything you have to say, at any time of day or night.
If you do have suicidal thoughts, then talking through those feelings with a counsellor could help you to come to terms with them and help you to realise that your life is worth living.
If you know someone who might be feeling suicidal, you can find information on what to do, what to say and how to help them here - How to help someone who is suicidal.
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What are suicidal thoughts like?
Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon, but everyone experiences them differently. Sometimes, suicidal thoughts come from a deep sadness caused by a loss, such as a death, a relationship breakdown, or a massive betrayal by a loved-one. Sometimes, people feel suicidal because they believe they're worthless, that their existence is a burden on other people and that the world would be better off with them gone. Other times, suicidal thoughts are fuelled by guilt or remorse about an accident or a regrettable action. In some cases, people who want to end their lives feel nothing - they no longer care whether they live or die, they simply feel empty.
It is important to realise that having suicidal thoughts does not make you a weak, flawed or bad person. It doesn't matter what your religious beliefs say, how you were brought up, what country you live in, what gender you are, or how old you are - you are entitled to everything you feel.
If your suicidal thoughts carry on for a long period of time, don't be afraid to ask for help. Really, you are not alone, you are not a burden on anybody and you do not need to feel ashamed for asking for help.
Suicidal thoughts can be:
The majority of people who feel suicidal do not necessarily want their lives to end - they just want the pain, trauma and distress they feel to end.
Suicidal thoughts can lead to:
- a change in appetite - eating more or eating less
- significant weight gain or weight loss
- feeling physically numb
- feeling 'unreal' - like you've been cut off from your physical body
- total loss of energy
- lack of motivation - desire to lie still or hide away
- neglect of health and physical appearance.
I want to end my life with suicide. What should I do?
Suicidal thoughts can be very frightening and confusing. Sometimes those low, dark feelings can swoop in and completely consume your every thought. Before you make any decisions, consider this: whatever happened, however you feel, however reluctant you are to face the future, no feelings are ever permanent. Even mental health conditions can be treated. Depression distorts our emotions, but it comes and goes. With treatment, it is possible to stop the pain you feel.
There are a few coping mechanisms for you to try if suicidal thoughts do start to overcome you:
1. Focus your attention on all of your five senses - For example: find something you enjoy looking at - a photograph of a place you were happy in, your favourite film or a familiar television series. Listen to your favourite song. Smell your favourite perfume, soap, food, or plant. Cook your favourite meal and savour every mouthful, concentrating on the flavours. Find something silky to rub, put on some fluffy socks, stroke your pet or give yourself a hand or head massage. Paying attention to your body will help you to ground yourself and soothe the turmoil in your mind.
2. Avoid drugs and alcohol - You may like the idea of sinking into oblivion, but altering your state of mind will only make things feel worse.
3. Tell yourself this:
- 'I have coped all this time so I can make it through this'.
- 'Time is a healer - things will get better.'
- 'Depression is temporary - I just have to sit it out.'
- 'Suicide is permanent.'
- 'Everything I am thinking is a result of certain hormones. I can learn to control them.'
- 'One day I will look back at this moment and feel relieved that I chose to live.'
4. Write things down - Get a pen and paper and write a list of all the things that give your life meaning, i.e. anything you enjoy doing, anything that makes you smile. For example - it could be a person you know, or it could be a comedy programme you like, or a public figure you find inspirational, such as David Attenborough, or Barack Obama. Anything that ever made you happy - a place, a phrase, a particular memory; write it down.
5. Take everything one step at a time - Don't think about Monday, don't think about tomorrow, don't even think about the next 10 minutes. Thinking about what might or might not happen can be scary and overwhelming. Focus on this very second. Every second that you focus on is another second passed, and another second away from the pain you feel.
6. Talk to someone - Pick up the phone, call anyone - friends, family, a health professional, a counsellor, Samaritans. Hearing a voice on the other end of the line will ground you and give you a place to vent your feelings.
Why do people attempt suicide?
To someone who has never experienced suicidal thoughts themselves, the idea that someone would want to take their own life can be very difficult to understand. Survival is the driving instinct behind all life; most living creatures spend their time trying not to die - so why would anyone choose to end their existence?
Suicidal thoughts are so complex, and tend to be rooted so deeply, that it can be almost impossible for anybody else to understand why a person might want to end their life. Sometimes, people who feel suicidal don't even understand their own emotions.
Some of the most common triggers for suicide include:
Isolation or loneliness
The feeling that nobody loves you, or cares about you, can be agonising. Some common reasons people become lonely include:
- They move away from friends and family.
- Loved-ones pass away.
- They fall out with friends and family.
- Social anxiety makes it difficult for them to make friends.
- They find it difficult to trust people or engage properly with others.
- Mental illness such as depression forces them into isolation.
- Chronic pain/illness forces them to stay inside.
Losing someone who was once a massive part of your life can be traumatic, especially if you relied on that person for happiness and fulfilment.
Falling out with the people you love is heart-breaking. Often, life is about the people in it and the relationships you build with them. When they disappear, it can be difficult to see what else there is to live for.
Loss and grief
Dealing with the death of someone close to you can be unbearably painful and difficult. Grief comes in many forms. Sometimes, immense feelings of loss, longing, guilt, anger, shock and confusion can feel too much to bear. It might feel like there's nothing left to live for but sadness and emptiness. People going through periods of bereavement may begin to have suicidal thoughts - especially if they believe they will be reunited with their loved ones in death.
Bullying can take many forms and happen to anyone of any age. The most common forms of bullying include:
- Verbal - when someone is verbally abused, threatened, or made to feel bad.
- Physical - when someone is routinely beaten up or pushed around.
- Social - when a person is ostracised socially, which can include being left out of social occasions, deliberately ignored, having nasty things said about them behind their back, or publically humiliated.
- Online - when Internet 'trolls' (people who deliberately stir up controversy for attention) target vulnerable people by spamming them with abuse via email, text, social networking etc. This is a common form of bullying amongst teenagers and an increasing number of celebrities and public figures experience online bullying via social media sites.
Being the victim of bullying can be traumatic. Bullying is strongly linked with depression, self-harm and suicide. Dealing with abuse, harassment and social humiliation on a daily basis can result in feelings of fear, worthlessness, low-self esteem, hate and anger. Bully victims tend to withdraw from society and retreat deeper and deeper inside themselves in order to escape their abusers. Sometimes, victims feel like the only way to escape their bullies is to attempt suicide.
For most of us, the work we do is a massive part of our lives. We spend an average of eight hours a day, five days a week earning money to afford our homes, lead our lifestyles and support our families. It's no wonder then, that we often measure our own self-worth against our performance at work.
Some common work problems include:
- Underperformance - getting a bad review can often be deeply disappointing, especially if you work hard at what you do. Being told you're underperforming can knock your confidence and make you feel undervalued and useless.
- High pressure - if your job involves a lot of responsibility, you might find yourself feeling stressed and on-edge on a daily basis. This is bad for both your mental and physical health and can result in depression, anxiety, insomnia and anger problems.
- Redundancy - sometimes companies have to make cuts to the workforce to save money. When it's you they're cutting, it can feel like all of those years of hard work, time and energy you put in were wasted.
When things begin to go wrong at work, low feelings can extend into the rest of life and quickly spiral out of control.
Getting into debt is a terrifying experience that can spiral out of control quickly. When you find yourself unable to pay back money you've borrowed, you may be forced to give up your personal possessions, including your family home and any other valuables you own. Being in debt can be humiliating and frightening for you and your family. Some people see no way out of their debt and so choose to end their lives instead.
It is important to remember that there are a number of ways to deal with debt in the UK, including debt relief orders, bankruptcy and debt plans. Although it may feel like there's no escape, it may just take time to free yourself and build your life back up again.
Mental health conditions
Mental health conditions linked with a higher risk of suicide include:
- severe depression
- bipolar disorder
- borderline personality disorder
- generalised anxiety disorder.
The NHS says that about 90% of people who attempt and succeed in suicide have one or more mental health conditions.
Counselling for suicidal thoughts
Suicidal thoughts are most commonly addressed using a relatively new form of counselling known as DBT - dialectical behaviour therapy. DBT is a specially adapted form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It applies two different techniques:
- acceptance techniques
- change techniques.
Acceptance techniques focus on making sense of who you are and what you do. It aims to show you that no matter how destructive your behaviour is, it still makes sense - it is still a valid coping mechanism.
Change techniques focus on ways you can change your behaviour and learn more effective, less destructive ways of coping with your distress. You will learn to replace destructive behaviours with behaviours that allow you to move on to a better place in life.
How long will DBT sessions last?
Weekly DBT will last between 50-60 minutes per session.
What will DBT sessions involve?
In your first session, you and your counsellor will set treatment goals according to the things you want achieve and the changes you want to make. All sessions from then on will work towards accomplishing these goals and overcoming any obstacles along the way.
What will I gain from DBT?
During your DBT sessions you will learn how to deal with crises effectively, without resorting to destructive behaviours like self-harm or suicide. You will learn how to communicate effectively in your important relationships, become more aware and mindful of your emotions and learn to live in the moment, rather than becoming overwhelmed by thoughts about the past or future.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts the NHS recommends you speak to a support group or help line (for example the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90) as soon as possible. Talking therapies such as counselling are also advised to uncover the root cause of your feelings. You can find more information about coping with suicidal thoughts on the NHS Choices website.
When it comes to searching for a counsellor or psychotherapist, there are no official regulations in position stipulating the level of training and experience they need in order to deal with someone experiencing suicidal thoughts; however, we do recommend that you check your therapist is experienced in the area for which you are seeking help.
A Diploma level qualification (or equivalent) in a related topic will provide assurance and peace of mind that your counsellor has developed the necessary skills.
What our experts say
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Justin Lee Slaughter. RMBACP21st June, 2016
- Identifying toxic shame - a step towards healing
Jael Ribeiro Reg MBACP20th June, 2016
- Men's mental health - Masculinity and feelings
Joshua Miles MBACP Integrative Psychotherapist & Bereavement Counsellor11th May, 2016
- Destructive ripples of suicide
Joan Benjamin AGIP UKCP GCP8th February, 2016
- Understanding and coping with suicidal thoughts
Joshua Miles MBACP Integrative Psychotherapist & Bereavement Counsellor2nd February, 2016
- Death and suicidal thoughts
Chris Paul (PGDip., MBACP)19th November, 2015
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