Coping with suicidal thoughts

By Sakuni Weerasinghe


Sometimes life just gets overwhelming. Your emotions take you on a ride from upset to fear, to pain and anger. It can seem as though it is non-stop and it can appear as though these feelings will never go away. 

Many of us can attest to having thoughts of wanting to end this pain in a permanent manner. Suicidal thoughts are not an indication that you’re weak or crazy. It just means that your emotional experience is too overwhelming right now. When the intensity of our pain exceeds what we can usually cope with, it is understandable to experience suicidal thoughts. 

Before we proceed to understanding this experience and learning ways to cope, I would just like to remind you that you won’t always feel this way, so you don’t have to act on these thoughts. 


Why do we get suicidal thoughts?


When we’re enduring a lot of emotional pain, we may experience suicidal thoughts. This is especially so when we feel as though the pain will never subside. Sometimes they are a symptom of an underlying mental health condition such as depression or anxiety, but having a mental disorder does not mean you’re always going to experience suicidal thoughts. 

Major life stressors such as loss of a loved one, financial crisis, or divorce can also serve as prompts for these thoughts. Research has outlined that family or relationship abuse and having previously made suicidal attempts increase the risk of someone experiencing these thoughts. 

Being unable to see a solution can also lead a person to experience these thoughts. In reality, it’s not that solutions do not exist, it’s just that our emotions overpower us so that we are unable to spot any solutions. 


What you may experience along with suicidal thoughts


  • Hopelessness and helplessness
  • Feeling not needed by others
  • Physical numbness
  • Tearing
  • Overwhelming negative thoughts
  • Wanting to avoid others
  • Finding it difficult to communicate
  • Neglecting your needs
  • Change in appetite (weight gain or weight loss)
  • Poor sleep 
  • Urges to self-harm
  • Restlessness, agitation, or feeling depressed
  • Reckless behaviour
  • Feeling trapped


These experiences serve as warning signs. Therefore, it is crucial that you reach out if you notice any of these to be your experiences or if you notice a loved one expressing them.

Sometimes these thoughts are passive or less direct. Whether they are active or passive, having suicidal thoughts can be scary.


How to cope with active suicidal thoughts


  1. Take the smallest steps you can to ensure your safety. Taking things minute by minute can be helpful and less overwhelming.
  2. Remove any items that you could use to harm yourself. If you are in an unsafe location, direct yourself to move to a safer place. It could be a friend’s house, a crisis centre, or a mental health centre.
  3. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. It could be a friend or a family member, or even calling a crisis line can be helpful. This will help you feel less alone.
  4. Use some relaxation strategies such as deep breathing or grounding exercises.
  5. You could also try some other coping strategies designed to help with thoughts and feelings of self-harm such as holding an ice cube in your hands, taking a cold shower, or tearing a piece of paper.
  6. Remember that you don’t have to act on your thoughts. Make a pact with yourself that you will not come to a decision today.
  7. Repeat to yourself that these feelings will pass.


How to cope with passive suicidal thoughts


  1. Reach out for professional support from a mental health professional. This will enable you to address any root causes of the suicidal thoughts.
  2. Build a safety plan which lists out your prompts or warning signs, methods of coping, and contact information for emergencies.
  3. Keep a diary to have a safe space to explore your thoughts and emotions.
  4. Take care of your basic needs.
  5. Explore different coping strategies to manage emotions.
  6. Practice self-compassion.
  7. Develop plans that you can look forward to.
  8. Stay connected with friends and family.
  9. Enhance things and activities that bring you joy.
  10. Take time off or breaks regularly to keep stress at bay.