Understanding & Managing Suicidal Feelings & Thoughts

We can’t talk about mental health without talking about suicidal feelings and thoughts.

Considering these as ‘extreme’ reactions or the more ‘extreme’ end of the mental health spectrum is dismissive of one’s intense suffering or struggle. Many people experience suicidal feelings and thoughts, including those who can get daily life done consistently well. There are also lots of ways people respond to them.

For some a response is an increase in distress as it’s like the thoughts/feelings aren’t coming from you. These can start to feel intrusive and disrupt your day-to-day as you’re forced to attend to them.

For others suicidal feelings and thoughts represent a part of their mental health that is reflective of how they experience and process daily life, stressful situations, and relationships. They are very familiar and can alternate being being scary and being comforting.

In any case they are an expression of not only trying to cope, but actively coping, to a large degree. When we are pressed and options are running out, our brains can lead us to thinking in certain ways. It might seem contradictory but suicidal thoughts can reduce suicidal feelings as there is a theoretical option, created by our brain, as an outlet for the pressure we’re feeling.

Making a distinction between passive thoughts and active thoughts is helpful in knowing what you need, or what someone else needs, when suicidal thoughts and feelings arise. Thoughts such as ‘It would be great to not wake up tomorrow’, ‘People would be better off without me’, and ‘What’s the point?’ are common. These can be considered as passive thoughts and are valid expressions of distress.

Active thoughts tend to include seriously thinking about how to hurt yourself or how to end your life. Again, these are valid expressions of distress. Active thoughts do not always mean someone wants to die. They may mean that the distress needs to stop and is too much to bear within themselves on their own.

When we are stressed to any degree, including feeling suicidal, our brain is less able to think effectively. Making a list of what you need to reduce your distress means you have something to refer to when suicidal thoughts dominate your mind, and stress makes it harder to think or act.

This can include people or services to reach out to. Additionally you can keep items nearby to help you soothe or distract yourself such as a blanket, jumper, favourite scent, colouring book, pen and paper, and photographs. You can show your list to a trusted person who can help you action it.

Suicidal thoughts and feelings make us feel alone, alienated, hopeless, and helpless. A loss of human contact and support can make this worse, so a good first step is to reach out yourself or ask a trusted person to check in with you if it’s hard for you to ask for help consistently. Let them know in advance when you’re likely to struggle whether it be mornings/evenings or certain meaningful dates.

If you or someone you care about is suicidal to any extent there are things you and they can do. Options are: being available to listen so that the internal stress has an outlet and they feel less alone, offering practical support so they have one less thing to handle, and making use of crisis services in the UK such as:

Samaritans: call 116 123

National Mind: call 0300 123 3393

NHS: call 111 for non-urgent advice or an out of hours GP appointment. Call 999 if it is an emergency and you need immediate support.

Local NHS urgent mental health helpline: www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/where-to-get-urgent-help-for-mental-health/

(Leeds only) Click the ‘I Need Help Now’ button on www.mindwell-leeds.co.uk or visit www.leedsmind.org.uk/need-help-now

For a variety of Leeds-based and national support during the Covid-19 crisis click here. This list includes support for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and LGBT+ people.

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