How to Create a Suicide Safety Plan

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Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A suicide safety plan is a written set of instructions that you create for yourself as a contingency plan should you begin to experience thoughts about harming yourself. It contains a series of gradually escalating steps that you follow, proceeding from one step to the next, until you are safe.

If you have depression, whether it has been diagnosed by a healthcare provider or not, there is a very real risk that at some point in the course of the illness, you may experience thoughts of suicide. While the emotional pain that triggers these thoughts may feel overwhelming, it does not mean that you will lose control or act on your thoughts.

In fact, having a suicide safety plan in place is one method you can use to cope with your bad feelings until circumstances change. This article discusses how to create a suicide safety plan, how to use it, and what to do when a safety plan is not enough.

Creating a Suicide Safety Plan

Work with someone you trust—such as your best friend, a close family member, or a doctor or therapist—to develop your suicide safety plan. It is best to get these people involved since you will most likely need to call on them if you decide to execute your plan.

Try to create the plan while you are feeling well and can think clearly, rather than waiting until you are actively suicidal. Put your suicide safety plan in writing and keep it in a place where you can easily find it should the need arise.

Your suicide safety plan should include several steps and be written in the order presented below. An example of each step is provided to help you think about what that step means for you.

Warning Signs

The first step in creating your suicide safety plan is to think about the types of situations, images, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that might precede or accompany suicidal urges for you.

List these warning signs so that you can refer back to them when deciding whether to activate your plan. It's also helpful to familiarize yourself with some of the risk factors for suicide in order to recognize these warning signs if present.

A warning sign could be that you tend to isolate yourself and not take good care of your health when you get depressed.

Ways to Calm/Comfort Yourself

Create a list of activities that can be soothing to you when you're upset. If you can't think of any examples off-hand, you may want to try some mind-body methods that have helped others, such as breathing exercises or body scan meditation. Or take a look at ​different ways to reduce stress to see if any methods might be helpful for you.

A few self-soothing ideas to consider: taking a hot bath, listening to music, or exercising.

Reasons for Living

Create a list of your reasons for living. When you are feeling suicidal, it is very easy to get caught up in the pain you are feeling and forget the positives in your life. Your list will help you refocus your attention on the reasons to keep going until your suicidal thoughts and feelings pass.

Some people with or without depression find that keeping a gratitude journal is helpful. If you find yourself feeling suicidal, looking at what you have written may help you focus on the positives in your life until the feelings pass.

Consider writing about blessings like your family, friends, pets, health, or faith.

Trusted Contact Information

Keep a list of contacts you can talk to if you are unable to distract yourself with self-help measures. List names, phone numbers, or other contact information, and be sure to have back-ups in case your first or second choices are unavailable.

Your list of trusted contacts may include your significant other, friends, relatives, or your religious leader.

Professional Resources

Create a list of all professional resources available to you, along with their phone numbers, email addresses, and other pertinent contact information. This is also a good place to keep a number for a crisis hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

Members of your professional health care team can include your psychiatrist and your therapist as well as a crisis hotline.

If you haven't yet seen a mental health professional, take a moment to learn about the different types of therapists who care for people with depression, and make an appointment today.

Depression Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide to help you ask the right questions at your next doctor's appointment.

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Ways to Make Your Environment Safe

Plan what steps you can take to make yourself safe. This may involve removing or securing any items that you are likely to use to hurt yourself, or going to another location until the urges have passed. It may also involve getting another person involved to help you.

If you feel like hurting yourself, you might plan to go to a public place like a mall, restaurant, or library to distract yourself. Or, if you are feeling suicidal, you might ask someone to keep your gun at their house.

When a Suicide Safety Plan Isn't Enough

If all other steps have failed to keep you feeling safe, go to your nearest hospital emergency room and ask for assistance.

Keep the name, address, and directions to the hospital listed in your plan for easy access or save it in your GPS.

If you do not feel that you can get to the hospital safely on your own, call 911 or the emergency contact number appropriate for where you live and ask for transport to the hospital.

What to Do If a Friend Is Suicidal

Many people with depression have friends who are coping with similar challenges. This could be a friend you have met in a depression support group or simply a friend or family member you have known for a long time. After all, depression is common.

After you have completed your own safety plan, encourage others who are coping with depression to create a plan for themselves. Other things you can do to support a friend who might be suicidal include:

  • Asking questions: The Suicide Prevention Lifeline recommends asking questions to help determine if your friend needs help. Asking them about their feelings and behaviors is important, including asking them directly if they are thinking about or planning to kill themselves. If they express thoughts or plans for suicide, take them seriously.
  • Recognizing the signs of suicidal thinking: Knowing some of the warning signs can help you better recognize when to seek assistance for your friend. Such signs can include talking about wanting to die, expressing feelings of hopelessness, and feeling like a burden to others. Sudden changes in mood, reckless behaviors, and social withdrawal can also indicate that someone needs help.
  • Offering support: Let your friend know that you are there for them. Listen to what they have to say and be accepting and non-judgmental. Studies suggest that acknowledging the situation may help reduce suicidal thinking.

If your friend is in immediate danger, do not leave them alone. If possible, remove any items in the vicinity that might pose a danger. Contact emergency services or take your friend to the emergency room.

How to Use a Suicide Safety Plan

If you begin to experience any of the warning signs of suicide listed in your suicide safety plan, proceed through the steps you have previously outlined for yourself, one by one, until you are feeling safe again.

An exception would be if you are feeling out of control and are strongly thinking of suicide. In that case, it is best to call either a trusted friend who can be with you immediately or 911.

While you will likely have your suicide safety plan in your home, there are now smartphone safety plan apps that you can take with you anywhere. These apps may be of particular benefit for younger people and those in regions where suicide support options are lacking.

Currently, however, there is a lack of information on how helpful these apps are, and some apps have been found to have potentially dangerous content. It's important to ask your mental healthcare provider whether they recommend one of these apps and, if so, which one they feel is best for you.

Links and Resources

The following suicide prevention resources can also be helpful:

The Crisis Text Line also offers useful resources for how to get help if you are experiencing thoughts of suicide. 

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. National Institute of Mental Health. Warning signs of suicide.

  4. Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Help someone else.

  5. National Institute of Mental Health. Suicide prevention.

  6. Mathias CW, Furr RM, Sheftall AH, Hill-Kapturczak N, Crum P, Dougherty DM. What's the harm in asking about suicidal ideation?Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2012;42(3):341-51. doi:10.1111/j.1943-278X.2012.0095.x

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  8. Larsen ME, Nicholas J, Christensen H. A systematic assessment of smartphone tools for suicide prevention. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(4):e0152285. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0152285

By Nancy Schimelpfening
Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be.