How to Create a Safety Plan

The danger which is least expected soonest comes to us.

If you are someone who struggles with suicidal pain, it is crucial that you take some time to write down a series of steps that you can turn to if you are in danger of acting on these suicidal thoughts. Mental health professionals call these steps a safety plan.

Create your safety plan ahead of time, while you are in a more rational state of mind. Then, when your suicidal thoughts and feelings threaten to push you over the edge, rather than acting impulsively on them, you will have steps to take to stay safe. Following your safety plan will allow you to “turn down the volume” of your suicidal pain and make it bearable until the crisis passes. 

When I cook, I like to use recipes because they provide step-by-step instructions to follow to produce a delicious meal. I think of my safety plan as “a recipe to keep on living.”   If I am on the verge of acting on my suicidal thoughts, I just reach for my safety plan and do exactly what’s written on it. I don’t have to figure out how to proceed in the heat of the moment–I have everything I need to stay safe planned out ahead of time.

A safety plan consists of :
  • A list of people you can contact when you are in crisis. These are people you can call upon when you are beginning to seriously think about harming yourself. This can include your therapist, a family member, one or more good friends, a member of a peer support group, or anyone you’ve been confiding in about your suicidal crisis. If you need help in finding supportive people, please read How to Create the Support You Need. 
  • A reminder of your reasons for living. This can include: being there for a family member, accomplishing a goal, or taking care of a pet. To develop your personal list of reasons to stay alive, visit the pages Reasons to Stay Alive and Reasons Not to Make an Attempt
  • Actions and coping strategies that you can plan to take if you feel overwhelmed by your suicidal impulses. What can make you feel better. What can you do to turn your attention to something else? Examples may include:
    • Taking a walk
    • Calling a friend
    • Playing music
    • Binge-watching Netflix

The goal is to take the edge off the pain of your current crisis so that you can better tolerate your distress. See Reducing Pain for a series of coping skills.

Here are some coping strategies that are taken from my own safety plan:

  • I tell myself, “This too shall pass.” (You can use another affirmation that works for you.)
  • I do the activities that have made me feel better in the past, such as taking a run in the neighborhood or listening to some relaxing music.
  • I close my eyes, relax, and then do square breathing: Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four and hold for a count of four.

You will also want to have the phone numbers of your local or national crisis lines. Here is Wikipedia’s list of these lines. 

Activity: Create Your Own Safety Plan

Using the Safety Plan Form take some time to create your own personalized safety plan. Think about the strategies and activities that will best keep you safe. Consider asking your therapist, friends, or family members for their ideas as you create your safety plan.

Once you have written your plan, make several copies and put them in places in your environment that are easy to locate. Find ways to carry it with you, such as by writing it in your phone, on a 5 x 7 card, or on the back of a business card for your wallet. Give a copy of your plan to your support people or anyone else who wishes to help you survive a suicidal crisis.