Suicidal thoughts

Written by Emily Whitton
Emily Whitton
Counselling Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Lindsay Roadnight
Last updated 21st December 2022 | Next update due 20th December 2024

If you need immediate help and are worried you can’t keep yourself safe, please:

  • go to your nearest A&E department
  • call 999 if you can’t get to a hospital
  • ask someone to take you to A&E or call 999 for you

If A&E isn’t an option, or you want to talk to someone, call Samaritans on 116 123.

Worried about someone else? If you know someone who might be feeling suicidal, you can read our information on how to help someone who is suicidal.

What are suicidal thoughts?

Suicidal thoughts and feelings are when you think about intentionally ending your own life or feel like you may want to do this. Suicide is the act of taking your own life. The thoughts and feelings themselves can range from feeling preoccupied with thoughts that others in your life would be better off without you, to making clear plans to end your own life.

Whatever form they take, suicidal thoughts can be incredibly scary, overwhelming and confusing. If you’re experiencing these types of thoughts, please know that you’re not alone and that help is available.

In this video, psychotherapist Sophie Harris explains why some people experience suicidal thoughts and the importance of seeking support. 

How suicidal thoughts can make you feel

Everyone experiences suicidal thoughts differently. It may be that you feel unable to cope with what’s happening in your life. For many, it’s less about wanting to die but instead feeling unable to continue living the life they currently have.

You may find the feelings come and go, or like they build gradually over time. Not understanding why you feel this way is very common.

Here are some examples of how suicidal thoughts can make you feel:

  • overwhelmed and tearful
  • unwanted or unneeded
  • hopeless, as if you see no alternatives
  • like your loved ones would be better off without you
  • physically numb

When you’re feeling this way, you may experience the following:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • change in appetite
  • urges to self-harm
  • wanting to isolate yourself from others
  • no desire to take care of yourself
  • low self-esteem

If this is resonating with you, you may feel as if you’ll never get ‘back to normal’ or experience happiness again. With help and support, most people who have experienced suicidal thoughts can recover, living full lives.

Telling someone how you feel is the first step to getting the support you deserve. Remember, we are all worthy of help and support.

If you’re not sure how to tell someone, you may find it helpful to print out this page for them to read. This can help them understand how you’re feeling and how they can support you when you feel like this.

I became disassociated. I felt like I was watching my life, but I was not in control. I was a passenger in my own body.

- Read Charlotte’s story.

What can help?

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, there are several things you can do right now to help and longer-term plans to help you feel better.

Right now

Make yourself safe - Your priority when you feel suicidal is to make yourself safe. This means removing anything you could use to harm yourself (or asking someone else to remove it) or removing yourself from a dangerous location. If you have a safety/crisis plan, follow it.

Get through the next five minutes - Make things less overwhelming by focusing on small chunks of time. Focus on just getting through the next five minutes, then reward yourself and move on to the next five minutes.

Distract yourself - If you feel an urge to hurt yourself, try distraction techniques. These include; holding an ice cube until it melts, focusing on how cold it is, writing down how you feel and tearing up the paper, focusing on your five senses, and taking slow, deep breaths.

Challenge your thinking - Write down some things you have coming up that you’re looking forward to. This may be watching a new film you’re excited about, seeing a loved one or eating something delicious. Make plans to do something you enjoy tomorrow.

Speak to someone - Visit or call someone and tell them how you feel. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, try a helpline like Samaritans - they are available 24/7 and will listen without judgement. Know that you are not a burden on anyone; loved ones and helpline volunteers will want to support you.

In the long-term

Talk to your GP - If this is the first time you’ve felt like this, booking an appointment with your GP is a great first step. They can refer you for talking therapies, prescribe medication where necessary and put you in touch with specialist services like a community mental health team.

Consider talking therapy - Talking therapies are offered by counsellors and psychotherapists, and can help you understand why you feel the way you do and help you find ways to resolve/cope with your feelings.

My counsellor was very patient with me, very kind and most importantly very honest. When she needed to show me that I was on the wrong track she was able to do so without upsetting me. I felt able to trust her - and I don't trust easily. I have a new-found sense of confidence and love for myself now thanks to her.

- Read Candida's story

DBT for suicidal thoughts

Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) is one type of talking therapy that may be offered if you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts. An adaptation of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), DBT uses acceptance and change techniques to help you understand why you feel the way you do and how you can help yourself.

Peer support - This means talking to other people who have had similar experiences to you. Many people find support networks online helpful for this, though you may prefer to meet in person if there are support groups in your area. Togetherall is a great place to start when looking for peer support.

Make a safety plan - This is a plan to help you when you have suicidal thoughts. This plan might include your warning signs, coping strategies that help you, numbers of people to call in a crisis and the steps you need to take to make yourself safe. You may find it helpful to make this plan with your doctor or counsellor.

Therapists who can help with suicidal thoughts

Why do we have suicidal thoughts?

Everyone’s reasons for having suicidal thoughts will be different, often it’s a combination of factors. It may be that you’ve been experiencing a growing sense of unhappiness and hopelessness and it’s developed into suicidal thoughts.

For some, certain difficulties in life trigger these thoughts. These may include:

  • mental health difficulties
  • experiencing abuse
  • bullying or discrimination
  • losing a loved one
  • chronic pain/illness
  • the end of a relationship
  • feeling lonely
  • loss of a job
  • debt and other money worries
  • family problems
  • cultural or religious pressures

While suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, of any age, gender or background, statistics show that men and those in the LGBTQ+ community are more at risk of taking their own life.

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) offers support to men in crisis, while Switchboard can offer help to those who identify as LGBTQ+.

Regardless of your reasons for having suicidal thoughts, know that it is not a sign of weakness. It is simply a sign that you are carrying more weight than you can handle, and that you need a helping hand. Speak up and let others help you lighten the load. As hard as it may be to understand right now, there is a way out and you can be happy again.

What should I be looking for in a counsellor or therapist?

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, the NHS recommends you speak to a support group or helpline (for example, the Samaritans, on 116 123) 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 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 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.

Remember, you don't have to face this alone. Reach out and don't be afraid to ask for help.

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