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January 13, 2023

How to deal with suicidal thoughts

Mental Health Suicide Prevention

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Having suicidal thoughts is neither rare nor a cause for shame. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 12.2 million, or 4.9 percent, of Americans 18 and older seriously thought about suicide in 2020.

So if you’ve ever felt like the world would be better off without you, know that you’re not alone, and that there's help available for dealing with these feelings.

Immediate help

If you’ve attempted suicide, call 911. If you’re not hurt, the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education recommend having a friend take you to a mental health urgent care setting or a hospital emergency room.

If you are experiencing intense suicidal thoughts or urges, call your mental health professional if you’re seeing one. If you’re not, or can’t reach the one you are seeing, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. You’ll be connected to a trained crisis worker who works at the Lifeline network crisis center that’s closest to you.

  • If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. 
  • There are people available to provide free and confidential emotional support to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Other steps to take

If you haven’t attempted suicide, but find yourself having suicidal thoughts, don’t try to deal with them by yourself. There is professional support and resources that can help you get through these difficult moments.

Whether it’s your doctor or a mental health professional, whoever you see can help you formulate coping strategies that are likely to work for you. You may want to talk about these strategies with people who are close to you, as they may help you carry some of them out.

You also should work with the professional you’re seeing to create an action plan. It may include a list of people you should contact when suicidal thoughts become overwhelming, as well specific healthy and enjoyable activities you can undertake to counteract those thoughts.

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, it is extremely important that you avoid alcohol and other drugs. While they can seem like a tempting way to escape the thoughts, being impaired by substances can actually make them more intense, and lead people to act more impulsively and dangerously.

Sources of suicidal thoughts

Suicidal thoughts are often due to depression or other mental health conditions, usually when they have become severe or have gone on for a long time. Ideally, people with such problems would seek and receive help before they started experiencing suicidal thoughts, but often they don’t or can’t. One reason for this is the stigma surrounding mental health issues. That’s why people and organizations that treat mental health conditions are seeking to make it easier to talk about suicidal thoughts and other problems.

Stressful life situations also can also lead to suicidal thoughts. These can include severe financial, legal, or relationship problems, the death of a loved one, serious pain, or physical illness.

Experiencing, or having experienced, physical or sexual abuse also can lead to suicidal thoughts. So can substance use, and going through situations.

Growing old also can be a factor. In fact, people 75 and older have the highest suicide rate of all age groups — 19.1 per 100,000, according to the CDC. For men 75 and older, the rate is 40 per 100,000.

Additionally, research has shown that people who identify as sexual and gender minorities have a larger attempted suicide rate than those who identify as cisgender heterosexuals, although the CDC says the data is limited.

Getting help

If you’re worried that you’re beginning to experience suicidal thoughts or that your life situation could cause you to have suicidal thoughts, you should seek help from your doctor and/or a mental health professional. You should consider doing this if you’re experiencing an increased use of alcohol or drugs, extreme mood swings, a change in your sleeping and eating habits, and/or an increased desire to be alone.

As part of their evaluation, your doctor or a mental health professional may administer a suicide risk screening. It likely will include a physical exam to see if there are physical causes for some of the things you find worrying. It may also require you to complete one or more questionnaires to help your doctor or mental health professional evaluate your thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

The evaluation may lead to you being prescribed medicine for physical or mental health problems or receiving psychological counseling or substance abuse treatment.

No matter how hopeless your situation may seem, ending your life is not the answer. There are people available to provide free and confidential emotional support to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Talk to someone now.

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