Red emergency phone used to call a suicide prevention hotline

How to Create a Suicide Safety Plan and Why It Matters

Christy Johnson
September 4, 2023
August 30, 2023

Suicide is a major public health concern that affects people of all ages, backgrounds, and circumstances. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide was the 12th leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, claiming the lives of over 45,900 people. 

Suicide is undoubtedly complicated and tragic, yet it is also often preventable. Knowing the warning signs for suicide and how to get help can save lives. 

Suicidal thoughts can make a person feel trapped, hopeless, and desperate. Overwhelming and urgent feelings of distress and despair can make them think there is no way out of their pain and suffering. These thoughts and feelings are not permanent. They do pass with time and help. To survive a suicidal crisis, a person must have easy and available tools for finding hope and support. 

What is a Suicide Safety Plan?

A suicide safety plan is a tool to help people when they experience suicidal thoughts or feelings. It is a written set of instructions that the person creates for themselves (often with the help and support of a mental health professional or a friend or loved one) as a contingency plan should they begin to experience thoughts of harming themselves. 

A suicide safety plan is a tool that includes easy-to-access local and national resources like crisis phone and text lines, along with an individualized plan to keep suicidal individuals safe by identifying their support systems and reasons for living. 

The plan includes lists of coping strategies, supports, and resources that the person can use to keep themselves safe until the suicidal crisis passes or they seek professional help. The plan also helps the person identify their personal warning signs that indicate that they are having a hard time and need to use their safety plan. 

A suicide safety plan is not meant to replace professional help but to complement it. Professional help is essential for treating the underlying causes of suicidal thoughts or feelings, such as depression, anxiety, trauma, substance use, or other mental health conditions. A mental health professional can provide you with therapy, medication, referrals, and other resources that can help you heal and recover. It is meant to help you in the meantime, when you are in crisis or when you are waiting for professional help. It can help you cope with your distress and access support when you need it. It can also give you a sense of hope and direction when you feel overwhelmed by suicidal thoughts and feelings. 

A suicide safety plan is not a contract or a promise not to attempt suicide. It is a way of empowering the person to take control of their situation and make choices that will protect their wellbeing. 

Read more here about What To Do If Someone Is Feeling Suicidal At Work.

Who are Suicide Safety Plans for?

Any individual who has experienced suicidal ideation but is not in an immediate crisis might find it supportive to create a suicide safety plan. If you or someone you care about are experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, or have in the past, a suicide safety plan can help you cope with distress and access support when you need it. Anyone of any age or life circumstance can use a suicide safety plan if they need it. 

Creating a Suicide Safety Plan

If you are thinking about creating a suicide safety plan, you can find some online resources or apps that can guide you through the process. You can also ask a mental health professional, a trusted friend or family member, or a crisis line support worker to help you create one. 

The main steps in creating a suicide safety plan are: 

  • Identifying your personal warning signs that indicate you are at risk of attempting suicide. 
  • Listing coping strategies that you can use by yourself to distract yourself from suicidal thoughts or feelings and calm yourself down. This may be listening to affirmations or calming music, watching your favorite comforting movies, journaling, painting, or cuddling a pet. Coping strategies vary per individual. 
  • Naming people that you can contact for emotional support or distraction, and listing their contact information so that it is easy to find when needed. 
  • Naming places that provide you with comfort, safety, and stabilization. 
  • Listing professional agencies and organizations that you can contact for mental health care or emergency assistance. This may include the nearest local emergency room or emergency mental health facility, and crisis phone, text, and chat lines. 
  • Making the environment safe by removing and limiting access to any means of self-harm, such as weapons, medications, alcohol, and drugs. 
  • Reviewing your safety plan regularly and updating it as needed. Periodically checking back in to review your safety plans ensures that the information in the plan is accurate and up to date and allows you to familiarize yourself with the resources available during times without crisis. 

Remember to keep your safety plan somewhere accessible and easy to find, such as on your phone, wallet, or in your bedside table. You can also keep copies with your mental health professional, a trusted friend, a loved one, or on your phone or in cloud storage for easy accessibility. 

If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 988 for phone or text support. Call 911 for emergencies.

Click here for more crisis lines and resources.

Christy Johnson
Christy Johnson
Christy Johnson is a licensed master social worker and mental health counselor that specializes in helping individuals increase feelings of safety and security in their bodies to help manage symptoms of depression, anxiety, anger, grief, and other difficult life challenges. Christy brings to the table a special focus on neuroscience, mindfulness, and real-world practices for emotional regulation and stress management. Christy graduated from New Mexico Highlands University with a Masters degree in social work in 2021 and currently practices as a mental health therapist.