What are suicidal thoughts?

Suicidal thoughts and feelings relate to thinking about carrying out suicide or making plans to carry out the act. People thinking about suicide may feel that they are a burden, and the world and their loved ones would feel better off without them. These feelings, of course, are completely untrue but may be unshakable in the mind of someone experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings. 

It is common to experience suicidal thoughts in conjunction with certain mental health problems, such as depression, bipolar, psychosis, schizophrenia or personality disorders.

It is important to remember that there are treatments available that can help you with these thoughts and feelings. In times of crisis, please go straight to your local A&E.

In many cases, suicide can be prevented. 

Why do people have suicidal thoughts?

It may appear that suicide or an attempt at suicide is an impulsive act, especially if a person is misusing alcohol or drugs, or responding to a sudden crisis. Although thinking about suicide is quite common, some people are more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and feelings if they feel incapable of solving the difficulties in their life.

Risk factors of suicidal thoughts can include:

  • Isolation or loneliness
  • The breakdown of an important relationship
  • Being bullied at work, home or at school
  • Experiencing bereavement or other loss
  • Work problems, unemployment or poor job prospects
  • Adjusting to a big change such as retirement or redundancy
  • Debt problems
  • Being in prison
  • Pregnancy, childbirth or postnatal depression
  • Cultural pressures
  • Long-term physical pain or illness
  • Doubts about your sexual or gender identity
  • Facing discrimination
  • History of sexual or physical abuse

Treatment for suicidal thoughts at Nightingale Hospital

Nightingale Hospital’s approach to treating suicidal thoughts and accompanying mental health problems combines individualised programmes with treatments based on current clinical evidence. You may attend as an outpatient, day patient or inpatient.

  • Counselling therapies: Counselling will focus on immediate difficulties and help with problem-solving skills
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy will support you to come to terms with difficult memories, feelings and fears
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) will explore practical ways to deal with your suicidal thoughts and replace them with more realistic and helpful ones
  • Medication: Medication can also be effective to help you cope with suicidal feelings
  • Well-being therapies: We offer therapy and alternative approaches such as meditation, relaxation, sleep therapy and physical therapies to support you through your suicidal feelings

How can I help myself with suicidal thoughts?

Learn distress tolerance skills

These can help you survive when in crisis and support your ongoing mental health. Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) gives lots of suggestions for accepting distress, soothing yourself and beginning to think more clearly.

Reach out: Engage in helplines and online discussion groups

If you believe that family and friends don’t understand, it can be a good idea to phone a helpline e.g. Samaritans and talk to someone who has been trained to listen to people who have suicidal feelings. The person listening to you will give you the time and space to talk in confidence without judging you. They will not tell you what to do; they will help you think through what to do for yourself. Keep the number handy so that you aren’t hunting around for it in a crisis. NHS and mental health charity online discussion groups can help you to learn practical ways of managing your crisis from others who have been through a similar experience. Be very careful of non-regulated sites.

Put your health first

Regular exercise like walking, running and swimming will lift your mood and make it easier for you to sleep better. Yoga and meditation can energise you and help to reduce tension. Food also influences your mood. When you are less anxious, your appetite may return and you could begin to eat healthier foods. If you have been misusing alcohol and drugs, cutting down will make your mind clearer and better able to focus on how to help yourself.

Express yourself

You might like to write down your thoughts, feelings and achievements in a diary. Over time, this can give you fresh insight and increase your ability to respond to your difficulties differently. Alternatively, creating artworks based on your feelings can also be a powerful tool. Learn from others – reading about how other people have managed difficult times is usually inspiring. Self-help books can suggest ways to improve your self-esteem and take you through practical problem-solving exercises.

Some practical tips

Remove any means of hurting yourself – this is important while you learn how to cope with suicidal thoughts. For example, make sure that you have only small quantities of medication in the house; if you are no longer driving carefully, hand over your car keys to a friend.

Signs someone may be suicidal

It’s important to understand the risk factors of suicide and warning signs. 

Warning signs that someone might be suicidal include:

  • A change in personality
  • Self-harming or risky behaviours 
  • Addiction 
  • Recent life crisis
  • Mentioning to loved ones they want to die 
  • Making changes to their will or giving away personal items 
  • Withdrawing from others 

What should I do if I think someone might be suicidal?

If someone talks about suicide, take them seriously. You should listen without judgement and encourage them to seek immediate support. 

Other tips include:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask someone if they are thinking about suicide. Directly ask them if they have hurt themselves, or considered doing so. It is a common misconception that people think saying the word ‘suicide’ might influence someone to end their own life. This is untrue, and avoiding the subject can be detrimental to the person in despair
  • Listen without judgement 
  • Provide them with caring support 

Useful resources

“When you have a problem and you drink, take drugs or gamble, the problem won’t go away. Stay and tackle the problem”