Suicide: coping with suicidal thoughts

If you’re having thoughts of suicide, you are not alone.
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Found in: Mental Health Conditions
Date: November 2019

Coping with suicidal thoughts

Lots of us have thought about killing ourselves and have found a way through.
We want to offer you clues, tohu and suggestions for how to make your way out of the bleakness or pain you’re experiencing. You won’t always feel like this.
If things are at crisis point for you right now, or you need urgent help, go to your local hospital emergency department or call your local mental health crisis assessment team.

If you’re in danger right now, please call 111.

Having suicidal thoughts can be overwhelming and sometimes terrifying. It can be really hard to know what to do and how to cope.

You might feel extremely depressed or anxious, or you might just feel really bad and not understand why. You might be finding the world harsh and painful, or feel like no one understands.

You can get through this.
Whatever is going on for you that has led to how you're feeling right now is unique to you – but you are not alone. Lots of people have thought about killing themselves and have found a way through.

You may feel like you are unloved, useless and not wanted or needed by anyone. You may be feeling hopeless about the future or powerless, like nothing you do or say can change things. You may be in an abusive situation and need to get away. You may be questioning your sexuality. You may be blaming yourself for things that have happened in your life, and you might think it would be easier for others if you weren't here.

You may not even know why you feel suicidal and think that you have no reason to want to kill yourself.

You may feel guilty and ashamed.

It can feel much worse if no one knows what you are going through or how bad you feel. You don’t need to be alone. There are people who are willing, able and available to help you.

You can get through this.

If you are in crisis

Tell someone what you are thinking – it’s the bravest thing you can do!

If you are having thoughts about taking your life, it’s very important to tell someone you trust so you can get the help you need to feel better. If you can’t immediately find someone you know to talk to, there are always people you can call by phone and who are willing, able and available 24 hours to help you.

If you are in a serious crisis or you need urgent help, do the following:
  • Call your local mental health crisis assessment team – they are there for you.
  • Or go to your local hospital emergency department – they will help you.
  • If you are in immediate danger, call 111. Emergency services are there for you.

Kei roto i te kōrero, he rongoa
Kei roto i te reo, te rongoa hei mirimiri mō te hinengaro mō te wairua

Talking is a rongoa (healing) for the mind and spirit
- Moe Milne

Not an emergency?

Talking to someone you trust can make a real difference.

“Tell somebody. You might get some strange reactions, but don’t worry. Tell somebody. If you’re wanting to kill yourself, trust me you’re not thinking clearly right now.”
– Paulo, 19

As hard as it is, reaching out and talking about how you feel or what you’re thinking with a trusted friend, whānau or family member really can make a difference. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help, it’s the bravest thing you can do.

If the first person you talk to doesn’t listen, try someone else.

If you can’t find someone you know to talk to, call a helpline. They’re free, anonymous, and have people you can talk to 24 hours a day. Free call or text 1737 to talk with a trained counsellor or see our list of other helplines.

Talking to someone you trust can make a real difference.

They might help you calm down and offer breathing space while you decide what to do next. They can be with you at times when you don’t want to be alone.

They might have advice or suggestions about how to manage your situation. It is sometimes easier for other people to see what options you have.

If there’s something specific you need, don’t be afraid to ask. Maybe it’s just someone to sit with you and listen. You could ask someone to go along to the doctor with you, or to call and make an appointment with a counsellor.
You could talk to:

  • people in your family, whānau, friends or support networks
  • your doctor or a counsellor
  • elders, kaumātua or kuia, faith leaders or someone from your church or mosque
  • support groups for people going through similar things
  • phone helplines and websites. 
If your request for help isn’t heard, ask again. You may need to find someone who can help you find the right person to talk to, or who will go with you to appointments or meetings.

If you are finding it hard to talk about what you’re going through, you can try starting with: “Lately, I’ve been feeling…”
“I think it started when…”
“I’ve been feeling this for a while…” or
“I’m thinking about…”

Most people who have suicidal thoughts don’t want to die – they just want to stop hurting. That’s why telling someone is so important. You deserve help and support.

“ I realised it was more the unbearable pain I wanted to end rather than my life as such. The thing is that the pain does end if you don’t end your life.”
– Jono, 27

Asking for help

Asking for help from a doctor or health professional

There are lots of ways you can find support to get through this – what will work best for you depends on your situation, what you need and the relationships you have. There is help available for everyone.

Professional support can include:

  • talking to someone about your thoughts and feelings
  • staying in a hospital or mental health service for a while and having people keep you safe
  • peer support, where someone else who has been through this can support you
  • medication to help manage your moods
  • learning ways you can help yourself.
Helplines are free phone services you can call to talk to trained volunteers or counsellors about what you’re going through.

They won’t judge who you are or what you’re feeling. Helplines can also tell you more about how the mental health system works and what’s available to you.

Your GP, doctor or hauora service can help you access counselling, mental health services or medication.

Your doctor will listen to you in private, and ask questions about you and your situation. You might want to have some of your family, whānau, friends and support network with you. Or you might not. Just say what you would prefer.

Counsellors, school counsellors or psychologists are people who are trained to talk through the really hard stuff.

They can talk to you about your situation, help to make sense of what you are going through, and explore different ways to cope and recover. It’s completely private, and a really good option if you don’t feel like you can open up to your whānau or friends.

Mental health crisis assessment teams can help in emergencies if you’re feeling really unsafe.

They can check what kind of help you need, and help you access it. In some parts of the country, they can come and visit you wherever you are. See Resources & Links below for contact details.
It can be very hard to talk about having suicidal thoughts, but it's very important to share what's going on for you. If you have made a plan to hurt yourself, talk about what you are planning to do so that your doctor can understand how serious your thoughts are.

Ask any questions you’d like to about what’s happening, or ask a support person to ask for you.

If you’re very distressed, it might be suggested you take some medication to help you feel calmer.

Your doctor or health professional may want to talk to your whānau, friends or family about you and your situation. They will do this with your permission but if there is serious concern that you are in danger, they may talk to others without your consent.

Hospital and community mental health services can help if you don’t feel you can cope or stay alive by yourself.

The thought of going to hospital or needing medication can seem really scary but a lot of people find it’s helpful.

If you need help to stay alive, you can go to the Emergency Department of your local hospital. They may offer you medication, discuss with you what kind of help you want, or suggest you stay in hospital.

Usually this is your choice, but if doctors are worried that you might kill yourself and you won’t accept treatment, they can make you stay in hospital for a while. If this happens, you should be given information about your rights under the Mental Health Act.

Either way, before you leave hospital, professionals should support you to develop a safety plan to help you if you get to a crisis point again. 

Community mental health teams support people at home, or outside of hospital. They might refer you to a respite service or crisis house, which can offer intensive support and a place to stay while you work through things and start feeling stronger.

Your rights

When you ask for help, you have the right to:

  • be respected and taken seriously
  • have your distress acknowledged
  • speak privately to people about yourself and your situation
  • be listened to
  • be encouraged to recover
  • have your family, whānau, friends or support network with you to help you make decisions about your care, if you choose to
  • have your cultural needs acknowledged and supported, if that’s what you want.
(source: Ministry of Health)

Coping right now – and finding your way through

When you are in emotional pain it can be hard to believe that you will ever feel better.

Some of us have found the following ideas give us hope and helped us recover from suicidal feelings.

Thoughts, not actions

Try to remember that thoughts about killing yourself are just thoughts. You don’t have to act on them, no matter how overwhelming they are or how often you have them. You won’t always have these thoughts.

Be kind to yourself. You only have to cope with one day or one hour at a time.
If you can, try to notice the world around you and give yourself a break from focusing on your distress.

Keep safe

Get rid of anything you think you might use to hurt or kill yourself, or put it somewhere you can’t access it.

Try to avoid drinking alcohol or taking non-prescription or recreational drugs. They can change the way you think and feel, mostly in unhelpful ways.

Make a safety plan so you know what to do if you feel really bad.

“Learn from others – read about how other people have managed.”

– Gavin, 49

Distract yourself

While it may feel like you have to act now, try to postpone any decisions about hurting yourself.
Keep a list of things you can do to distract yourself. This might include watching a video online, calling a friend, exercising or listening to music. Check your list and find something you can do to distract yourself from suicidal thoughts.

Fill a ‘distraction box’ with things that you find comforting and meaningful. This could be music you like listening to, photos, phone numbers of friends you could ring, a taonga, notes to yourself, perfume, a toy, or anything else you find helpful.

“If you can think of anything that makes you feel the tiniest bit better, do it. Then do it again. You can actually start to release the pain that way.”
– Helena, 32

Connect with others

Talk to someone you trust about what’s on your mind, whenever you need to.

Keep a list of people you can call. If you’re not sure who you can talk to, try a helpline or text counselling service.

Spend time with people who you like and trust.

Think about what kind of help you need when you feel low. You may want friends to visit you, send you texts or messages, pick up groceries, cook you a meal, or give you advice. Let people know so they can do their best to support you.

Look after yourself

Here are some other ways you can take care of yourself:

  • Get a good amount of sleep, rest and exercise, and eat regularly.
  • If you’re taking prescribed medicine (whether it is for a physical illness or a mental health problem), don’t stop taking it without talking to your doctor first.
  • Take time off work or school if you need to. Your doctor can help arrange this.
  • Keep a diary, or write a letter to someone that you don’t send. Writing things down can help you understand what you’re thinking or feeling, or how you’re reacting to situations. It can also help you find solutions to any problems you’re facing.
  • Do things you find healing. Go for a massage or mirimiri.
  • Express yourself in whatever way makes sense to you: sing waiata, take photos, dance, draw.
  • Learn how other people have got through this. Watch videos or read books. It really can help hearing other people talk about how they managed their feelings of wanting to die. There are suggestions at the end of this book.
  • Connect with areas of your life that give you a sense of meaning e.g. your friends, whānau, culture, spirituality, whatever you’re passionate about. Go to places that restore you. Swim in the ocean, go home to your marae, sit in a park under the trees.
  • If you’re disconnected from being Māori, find a way to reconnect. If you don’t know where to start, join a kapa haka group or start learning te reo to be around the culture.
  • Reach out and find people who are like you, or who are going through similar things. If you’re questioning your sexuality or gender, or feeling isolated because of who you are, see below to find someone to talk to.
“There really are so many things in life that aren’t fair or equal or right. You’re not crazy if you think like that, you’re onto something. Racism, prejudice, abuse. Don’t let it implode you. Turn the anger back out where it belongs. Learn to channel it into changing your world. You’re way more powerful than you realise.”
– Wai, 55

More people and places to contact for support

For professional support, talk to your local doctor, medical centre, hauora service, community mental health team, school counsellor or counselling service.

If you don’t get the help you need the first time, keep trying.

Sometimes when we feel suicidal it can be related to other stuff that’s going on in our lives – money issues, relationship breakups, violence or sexual abuse, or going through big changes. 
When you need support with things like this, there are people who can help. Social workers, youth workers, Whānau Ora navigators, or free helplines can support you to work things out or direct you to the help you need.

“Climb your maunga, swim in your river, talk with your kuia. The medicine is in your whakapapa.”
– Elena, 53


Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants, anxiety treatments or other medications.  Often both medication and therapy is useful. Finding the right medication can be a matter of trial and error – there is no way to predict which will be effective for, and tolerated (have fewer troublesome side effects) by, any one person. Medication can help manage your moods.

If you are prescribed medication you are entitled to know:

  • the names of the medicines
  • what symptoms they are supposed to treat
  • how long it will be before they take effect
  • how long you will have to take them for and what their side effects (short and long-term) are.
If you are breast feeding no medication is entirely safe. Before making any decisions about taking medication at this time you should talk with your doctor about the potential benefits and problems.

Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies may be used in addition to other treatments and prescription medicines. Mindfulness, yoga, exercise, relaxation, massage, mirimiri and aromatherapy have all been shown to be helpful in making people feel less distressed.

Complementary therapies can include using a number of herbal and other medicinal preparations to treat particular conditions. It is recommended that care is taken as prescription medicines, herbal and medicinal preparations can interact with each other. 
Physical health

It is really important to look after your physical wellbeing. Talk to your doctor or health practitioner about how you can look after your physical health while recovering.

Personal safety plan

Sometimes it can really help to make a Personal safety plan

Take some time to fill in My own survival plan  with a doctor or support person, or by yourself. Try to find a time when you’re feeling calm.

This plan asks you to think about what you need to stay safe, your reasons for staying alive, what you can do and who can help when you’re distressed. It can also help you to make a plan with your support people about what to do if you become suicidal or are at risk of hurting yourself again.

' “One day you’ll look back on this and be really pleased that you’re still around – there are still things in your path to discover” – Ali, 57 '

– He oranga ngākau he pikinga wairua - When the heart is well, the spirit is lifted.