Overcoming suicidal thoughts

Cara has some great practical tips for getting through tough times

Written by Cara Cullivan


Depression and suicidal thoughts often make us feel trapped, as if there’s no way out. What overcoming depression and suicidal ideation taught me was that I needed to learn how to cope, I needed a distraction. To overcome those moments when you feel you are losing control, you need to find a way to keep hold. The following list consists of ways in which I was able to keep my suicidal ideation at bay and cope with it when it arose. It is not meant to be exhaustive, but it is meant to help you turn the tide.

Find alternatives

Find alternatives for when self harm is too much of a risk. Snap a rubber band on your wrist, rip up paper, throw clothes around. Anything that allows you some sort of release.

Have a look at this article for other helping coping methods to reduce self-harm.

Learn to breathe

Diaphragmatic (Belly) breathing is effective when anxiety or extreme sadness strikes. Start belly breathing immediately and it will help you feel calm and in control fast. There are online guides to help you.            

Look after your body 

Eat well, even on the days you have no appetite. Avoid alcohol and drugs, as both are a dangerous cocktail that can exacerbate how low you’re feeling. Try to abstain as best you can. When you can’t, make sure you are not by yourself.


Go for a run. If you can’t run, walk. Choosing not to listen to suicidal thoughts and actively trying to improve your mood through exercise is something you can do by yourself. If you need motivation, ask a friend to join you. Start small and gradually try making exercise a habit.


When you find yourself unable to talk to anyone, take a long hot shower. It’s a warm, comforting, quiet place away from everything where you can get some respite. On the nights that you’re struggling to sleep it’ll help too.

Realise that you are not alone

The most crushing feature of suicidal thoughts is the idea that you are alone. You fear an enemy you can never escape from, that one day you will die alone by your own hand and feel powerless to stop it. But you can. Talk to friends. You don’t have to tell them everything, but do let them know you are not okay. Take a walk with someone. Just getting out of the house and into the open air can help ground you a little. Call someone on the days you cannot leave the house; if you feel unsafe, ask someone to come to you.

Create a self-care kit

For me, this was one of the most effective ways of coping. At one point my kit included a colouring book, some hot chocolate and a teddy bear. I saved conversations with my favourite people (something I still do) alongside a list of my goals for the year. Whether it is your favourite photos, a journal in which to write down how you feel; it is all useful. Articles or columns that you find meaningful, jokes that make you laugh. Anything else that reminds you of reasons to stay alive. Make a list of the things you want to do, places you want to go, people you want to see. When you feel lonely, or when no one else is awake, turn to your self-care kit to remind you that things will get better.


Keep a mood journal. Write down your thoughts, your feelings, and keep track of your mood triggers. Not only does this provide relief in the short term, it’s a useful way to understand your own moods and emotions in the long run so you can work toward altering your behavioural habits.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to awareness of your thoughts, feelings, body, and environment. It teaches you to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings without judging them. There are free online resources for you to practice. Once you understand your triggers, you can gradually change how you react. Practicing mindfulness can distract you when suicidal thoughts arise and will teach you better coping skills in the long run. 

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Supplement your mood journal with a CBT book. CBT aims to help you deal with immediate, overwhelming problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts. It shows you practical ways to change negative patterns and improve your state of mind on a daily basis. 

Visit your GP

You will not be judged. Your suicidal ideation and depression are not a shameful secret. Doctor-patient confidentiality means you will not be ‘outed’.  Your GP is a qualified health care professional who can give you a proper diagnosis. Bring your mood journal with you when going through your symptoms to ensure that you leave nothing out. Together with your GP you can establish a medically supervised road to recovery. They will listen, they will understand, they will help.

Remember that it takes time. Be kind to yourself; you are not trying to be perfect you are trying to make progress. Recognise your emotions are something outside yourself, not whom you are. It is possible to overcome suicidal ideation and depression; good habits take work to form. Make changes when you feel capable. Recovery starts with baby steps. Stay determined.

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