A safety plan is a written set of instructions that you create for yourself as a contingency plan, should you experience suicidal thoughts.
The plan contains several steps for you to follow, proceeding from one step to the next, until you are safe.
Creating your safety plan
This is your plan to keep yourself safe in a crisis.
It is best to create your safety plan when you are feeling more stable and can think clearly, rather than waiting until a moment of crisis.
Work with someone you trust, such as a friend, family member or support service professional to develop your safety plan. It is also useful to involve someone you trust as you may need to call on them if you need to use your safety plan.
Put your safety plan in writing and keep it in a safe place where you can easily find it.
Your safety plan should include several steps:
If you’re looking to help someone create a safety plan, the Samaritans provide advice and an example template.
The first step in creating your safety plan is to identify any warning signs, or triggers, that might lead you to suicidal thoughts, such as certain sounds, images, thoughts, feelings, or situations.
Write your warning signs in a list so that you can refer back to them when you are deciding whether you will need to activate your safety plan.
An example of a warning sign could be that you isolate yourself and take less care of yourself when you are struggling.
When you experience any of the warning signs listed in your safety plan, proceed through all of the steps you have outlined yourself, one by one, until you are feeling safe again.
Ways to calm and comfort yourself
Create a list of activities that you find soothing when you are struggling.
Think about a time before, when you felt better than how you do currently. How did you relax? Did you do any hobbies or activities, that perhaps you don’t do now, that you used to enjoy or were a distraction?
If you are unable to think of any, you may wish to try some mindfulness or breathing techniques.
Some self-soothing ideas to consider are taking a hot bubble bath, listening to your favourite music or going for a run.
Reasons for living
Create a list of your reasons for living. Consider, for example, writing about your family, friends or pets.
When you are feeling suicidal, it is easy to get caught up in the pain you are feeling and forget the positives in your life. Your list will help to refocus your attention on the reasons to keep going.
Some people who struggle with their mental health find that keeping a gratitude journal can be helpful. If you are having suicidal thoughts, looking back at what you have written may remind you of the good things in your life.
This is an example of why it is so important to write a safety plan when your mood feels more stable. When your mood is low or you are having suicidal thoughts, it is not always easy to think of the good things. But if you have already written down positive thoughts and coping mechanisms, you have reminders you can trust when you are in crisis.
Keep a list of at least two people and their contact details who you can talk to if you are unable to distract yourself with self-help measures.
If you can, having a couple of backup contacts is useful, in case your first and second contacts are unavailable.
Professional support services
Create a list of all the support services you are working with and their contact numbers.
Members of your professional support service team can include an NHS Crisis Team, Op NOVA Caseworker, or therapist.
If you are not currently working with any support services, here are some useful crisis numbers, such as the Samaritans, who you can call 24/7 to talk to someone. You can add these numbers to your professional support services list for future use.
Ways to make your environment or situation safe
Plan what steps you can take to make yourself safe.
This may include removing or securing any items which you are likely to use to harm yourself, or removing alcohol or drugs so you cannot use them.
You may plan to go to another location to distract yourself until the urge has passed, such as a public place like a library, café or a neighbour’s home.
Your plan could also involve asking one of your trusted contacts to help you make yourself safe. For example, they could remove any medications (leaving only what you need in the immediate moment), or items you may use to harm yourself with, until you are no longer in crisis.
When a safety plan is not enough
It is useful to keep the name, address and phone number for your nearest hospital listed in your safety plan.
If you have followed the steps of your safety plan but are still feeling suicidal, out of control or at imminent risk of harming yourself:
- go to A&E
- if you cannot get to A&E safely, call 999