Creating a Safety Plan
By Amy Cunningham, Psy.D., and Heidi Bryan, the founder of Feeling Blue Suicide Prevention Council, a nonprofit organization based in Pennsylvania, after losing her brother Jeff to suicide. Heidi created the booklet, After an Attempt: The Emotional Impact of a Suicide Attempt on Families.
It is important for you to make a plan on how you are going to keep yourself safe in case you begin to feel suicidal again. By completing a safety plan, you can begin to recognize the warning signs that you are starting to feel suicidal and get yourself help before it’s too late!
Either by yourself or with friends/family/therapist, you can complete the blank safety plan on the next page. We encourage you to keep multiple copies of this safety plan in places where you can easily find it in case of an emergency.
In this safety plan, you should include all the warning signs that you are starting to feel suicidal. To figure this out for yourself, ask yourself “What was I feeling/thinking/doing before I started to feel suicidal?” Here are some signs that other people have identified:
Feeling really depressed
Pushing people away
Not sleeping well
Picking fights with the ones I love
Canceling my doctor’s appointments
Staying in bed all day
Crying all the time
Stopping eating/eating too much
The next step in a safety plan is to think of something you can do when you notice the above warning signs to help yourself feel better. Some coping ideas are:
Read a good book
Listen to music
Call a friend
Take a bubble bath
Read the Bible
Take the dog for walk
Play with my children
Volunteer at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or local nonprofit organization
We also recommend keeping a daily planner with your appointments, and contacts as well as make a list of tasks to do each day. When you begin to organize your life, your thoughts will follow and you will begin to feel calmer and less stressed.
Make a survival kit, box or folder. Put music, poetry, notes, pictures, anything that will comfort you and make you feel better. If you get a nice e-mail or birthday card or thank you note, put it in the kit so you can see how you have made a difference in someone’s life. Include items that sooth you from each of the five senses (smell, taste, touch, sound and sight).
You can also create Hope Cards. These are index cards with the reasons why you feel suicidal on one side of the card and on the other side, a list of things that can challenge or change those thoughts. For example, perhaps you feel suicidal when you believe nobody cares for or loves you. On one side you would write, “I feel like no one loves me," and on the other side you would list all the people in your life who do love you, such as your parents, spouse, siblings, partner, etc. The cards could be carried with you at all times and when these feelings arise and you begin to feel suicidal, you can easily pull out the stack of cards, read them, and manage your feelings.
The last step in this safety plan is to include the names and numbers of people in your support network that you can call on to help you when times get tough. It is important to include their phone numbers so you don’t have to try to remember them when you are in crisis. Here are some suggested people to include:
Local Emergency room
Also, include the 24-hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There are trained individuals available 24 hours a day 7 days a week to talk with you when you are feeling badly.
For more information on developing a safety plan, see The Safety Plan Treatment Manual to Reduce Suicide Risk: Veteran Version; Stanley, B. & Brown, G. K. (2008). Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Veterans Affairs.