Tips for Coping With Depression and Suicidal Thoughts

Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 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.

If you have been struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Having thoughts of taking your own life is common among those dealing with severe depression. It is important to remember, however, that what you are feeling or thinking doesn't have to translate into action.

Life circumstances are constantly changing and your feelings will also change, no matter how hopeless it feels right now. Although it may be hard to see it when you are feeling deeply depressed, there is hope.

Depression is a treatable illness and there are many options that can help you. Even if one treatment does not seem to provide much relief, this does not mean that another treatment won't provide better results. In the meantime, there are steps you can follow to help you better cope with your feelings until they pass.

1

Call a Suicide Hotline

Suicide hotlines and chat rooms are important resources to use when you're in a crisis. They are free and can connect you with a counselor who will help you talk about your feelings in a safe environment.

You don't have to provide any personal information when you call and, while the person on the other end of the phone may ask some questions to better determine your suicide risk, they will mainly listen, provide resources, and help you develop a safety plan.

2

Make Your Environment Safe

Making your space safe could involve removing items from your home that you may feel tempted to use to hurt yourself, such as pills or guns. If that isn't feasible, remove yourself from the situation by going somewhere else for a while or asking a friend or family member to help you.

If you could use help from a friend or family member, be direct and explain what you would like them to do. Don't assume they'll know what you want or need, because they may not.

For example, you might say, "Hi, Bob. I'm calling because I'm feeling suicidal and I'm afraid that I might hurt myself. Would it be possible to stay with you for a while since there are guns in this house?"

3

Seek Professional Help

If you are not currently receiving treatment for your depression, it is important to reach out for help. Set up an appointment with your family doctor or a psychiatrist to be evaluated and treated.

If you are already in treatment but are struggling, your doctor will be able to help you. This could be either by making changes to your treatment plan or by helping you to be admitted to a hospital until the crisis passes.

Treatment options for depression often involve the use of psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of both.

Psychotherapy, also known as "talk therapy," is a first-line treatment that your doctor may recommend for your depression. That said, if you are feeling suicidal and need quick relief, psychotherapy alone may not be your best option.

Antidepressant medications may afford quicker symptom relief than therapy, while psychotherapy can give you the tools needed to cope with your current depression and help prevent future episodes. The two treatments are most effective together: Research shows that combining psychotherapy with antidepressants is "superior" for treating depression than antidepressants alone.

4

Ask a Doctor If Medication Is Right for You

Antidepressants are generally the first medical treatment that your doctor will try. If you have already tried an antidepressant without success, don't give up. Sometimes it takes a few weeks for the medication to begin working. And if you've been taking antidepressants for a while, stopping abruptly can result in withdrawal.

Not everyone reacts the same to a specific medication. Sometimes it's a matter of trying a different antidepressant, finding the right combination of antidepressants, or adjusting the dosage.

A review of 522 different studies on antidepressants found that a majority of people have a reduction in symptoms in the first two months after starting antidepressants.

It's important to remember that either changing medications or adding additional ones can improve recovery rates. Don't give up on treatment too early.

5

Avoid Alcohol and Drugs

While it may be tempting to hide from emotional pain by using drugs or alcohol, this is actually a bad idea. These substances can intensify your feelings of sadness and hopelessness and make your situation worse. In addition, alcohol and drugs may lower your inhibitions, making you more likely to act on your feelings.

Instead of trying to medicate your pain with substances, practice self-care. Eat healthy foods, get some exercise, and make sure you're getting enough sleep. All of these activities can help you feel better.

6

Work on Problem Solving

If your depression is related to a situation in your life, it may be helpful to spend some time problem-solving. Ask yourself what is making you feel the way you do and then come up with a few strategies to change or resolve the situation.

For example, if you feel depressed because you just lost your job, you could get someone to help you with your resume or seek out a life coach. Another option would be to get job skills training so you are more appealing to employers.

As the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu once said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." So, if your problem feels particularly large or difficult, focus on the baby steps you can take that will lead you in the direction of a solution.

7

Remind Yourself of the Good Things in Your Life

When you are feeling bad, it's very easy to forget all the positive things that you still have in your life. They get pushed to the back of your mind. That's why it's helpful to remind yourself of these things from time to time.

One way to do this is to keep a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, sit down and write about all of the things you are thankful for. It may not take away your thoughts or feelings entirely, but you may notice that it helps.

8

Seek Human Contact

Although your first inclination may be to isolate yourself in your home and avoid contact with other people, it can be helpful to do just the opposite. Go out for a walk. Go shopping. Seek out human contact.

Doing this will help distract you from your thoughts. Plus, by being in a situation where you can't easily act on your feelings, it can help keep you from harming yourself.

9

Talk to Someone You Trust

Often it can be a big help just having someone to whom you can express your feelings. Someone who will listen when you're feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts. This person can be anyone you trust, such as a friend, relative, clergy, or therapist.

Keep in mind that not everyone understands depression. Therefore, when talking to friends about your depression, let them know how they can help. Ask them for their support and encouragement.

10

Distract Yourself

Easing your suicidal feelings can take time. While you are waiting, however, it can help for you to find ways to distract yourself from the emotional pain.

Make an agreement with yourself that, just for a little while (as long as it takes to watch a movie, phone a friend, or perhaps go to work), you will not focus on your darker thoughts. As you string together these shorter periods of distraction, enough time will eventually pass for you to start feeling better.

11

Remind Yourself of Past Experiences

Have you been through other episodes of depression and were able to move past them? Think back to the steps you took that helped you before and do them again.

Most importantly, remind yourself that the painful feelings eventually passed. You worked through them and emerged happier on the other side.

12

Consider Other Treatment Options

If you are in immediate danger of hurting yourself, you haven't responded well to antidepressants, or there are medical reasons why antidepressants are not a good idea for you, your doctor may opt to prescribe less common treatments.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) involves applying an electrical pulse to the scalp in order to induce a seizure. This procedure is often considered a last resort due to its side effects, such as headaches and muscle aches, but some researchers feel that it should be utilized sooner "due to its profound effects."

These researchers further stated that not only does ECT help put depression in remission, it can also reduce the likelihood of a relapse. In cases where suicidal thoughts were present, patients tended to respond quickly to this particular therapy.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) involves stimulating a particular area of the brain with magnetic pulses but is less invasive than ECT and has fewer side effects. Like ECT, it's targeted toward individuals who have not responded well to antidepressants.

Studies have found that people treated with TMS experience significant improvement in their depression symptoms, with remission rates between 30% and 40%.

Researchers have also found that people who had maintenance TMS were also less likely to have a relapse of depressive symptoms.

Because the patients recruited for these studies were individuals who were considered non-responders to antidepressant therapy, the results are believed to represent patients who could, if they don't give up prematurely, achieve complete remission of symptoms.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), which has sometimes been referred to as "a pacemaker for the brain," is a more invasive procedure than ECT or TMS. It involves having a pulse generator surgically implanted under the skin of the chest.

One study found that those treated with VNS experienced significant improvements in overall well-being and quality of life, even if their symptoms were reduced by less than 50%. 

A Word From Verywell

If you have severe depression, it can be a life-saving act to create a safety plan with the help of your support network. Your safety plan can help provide you with concrete steps to take to cope when your depression is at its worst and when you are having suicidal thoughts.

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