Mental Health Safety Plan (Suicide Prevention Plan) | Occupational Therapist Explains

Introduction to Safety Plans

When thinking about mental health, it can seem mysterious like a black box. We all know how to take care of ourselves physically, like you should eat healthier foods and avoid junk food and exercise. But how do you take care of your mental health? This video will provide a good place to start for anyone looking to improve or address their or someone else’s mental health for a loved one or a friend.

Just like how your chances of success for improving your physical health require a plan, so does mental health. Whether it’s for self-care or to the more serious and someone is considering hurting themselves or others, having a well-thought-out plan is a good place to start. And just like for natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, having a safety plan helps you to prepare when times get rough and emotions are involved and when you are less likely to think clearly. Studies also show that people who have a safety plan are more likely to have reduced chances of harming themselves or others.

When’s a Good Time?

Before we start, there’s a good time and a bad time to come up with a safety plan. A good time is when you are in a good mental state and more “normal”. A bad time would be when you are feeling more blue or depressed. Let’s get into the parts of a mental health safety plan now.

Part 1 – Safety

The first part of your plan is safety. What can you do to make yourself or someone else to to make themselves safe in times of poor mental health. One way is to make the environment safer by removing dangerous things such as firearms and sharp objects, or at least locking them up and making them less accessible. If you don’t know how to make your environment safer, a good idea is to talk to someone who knows you well and you are comfortable with. And safety isn’t just related to things that can do immediate harm, it could be alcohol, prescription drugs, recreational drugs, or even keys to a car if you are prone to road rage. Or places to avoid that are dangerous. So this may involve making bigger life changes such as moving to a new place if it will make you safer.

Part 2 – When to Use/Having Multiple Plans

The second part is to consider when you would use your safety plan. This may involve having multiple plans, like a plan B or even a plan C, for more serious situations such as if someone is considering self-harm. And while it may be easy to have this in your head, a good idea is to write this out, such as on your phone’s note app because we tend to forget things such as small details, especially when our minds may be clouded by poor mental health and things like lack do sleep or insomnia or emotions like anger.

Part 3 – Emergency Contact(s)

The third part of the safety plan is someone to contact or call when you are feeling down or unsafe. It could be a partner, family member, friend, neighbor, therapist, pastor, or anyone you feel comfortable and safe telling during tough times. This person should be reliable and nonjudgmental during your times of the most vulnerability. If the person you have in mind gossip or if you don’t have anyone in mind, there is always medical professionals, therapists, and hotlines. This will depend on where you live and the resources that you have available to you. Sometimes you don’t even need to pace a phone call and it can be done via text message or chat. Besides having someone in mind as a contact for you mental health safety plan, you should also let them know if and when this does happen ahead of time. That way they won’t be surprised and will be better prepared to support you. Keep in mind that this person is there to provide help, but not to act as your “therapist”. 

If you have the means and the finances or insurance, an idea for a second person to have be a contact is a mental health professional such as an occupational therapist, psychologist, doctors, counselors, or anyone else who is trained in mental health.

Part 4 – Reasons Worth Living

The 4th part of this 5-part plan and arguably the most important part is reasons worth living. What brings you happiness or joy. And it could be anything. A child, a pet, a favorite type of food, an activity, a favorite place, watching the sunset, a favorite season or holiday like Christmas or when it is snowing, or a favorite hobby or interest. And it doesn’t need to be super incredible, just something positive that is meaningful to You. this thing or list of things is unique to you. I realize that it may be hard to come up with this when times get difficult, so again, it’s important to make this plan when you are in a good headspace. You can jot down things that are time to mind and brainstorm and add to this list as time goes on. You’ll soon find your list with 5 items, then 10, 50, 100 items of things worth living for. And the beauty of this is that it can all be a secret and private for you. But you can share something like a pet or hobby like fishing with your emergency contacts because they can help remind you of these things when you forget or can’t think clearly.

Part 5 – How to Feel Better

The 5th and last part is about what to do to make you feel better. Ideally, these would be healthy choices instead of things like alcohol, drugs, or gambling because it could make you feel worse afterward due to hangovers or from losing bets and going deeper in debt. Healthier choices can be things like going out for a walk, watching a movie, playing video games, listening to music, fishing, playing golf, spending time with your car, hanging out with your friends, baking, and so on. It all depends on you and could be related to the earlier step of things worth living for. Even if you can’t physically or actually do these things, writing it down so that you can daydream about it is still better than nothing.

Summary and Tips

So as you can see, coming up with a self-care plan for one’s mental health isn’t difficult, but when you do it is one consideration. Another is the likelihood of the plan being successful. Just like how losing 100 pounds in a month for weight loss is not realistic, some safety plans can be made more realistic. Still, it’s better than having no plan at all. The last thing to do is to remember to update your safety plan periodically or when things change. There may be new people who can act as contacts, new reasons to live, and new interests and things you can do to help cope when you are, say, feeling depressed. It also helps to discuss your plan with a mental health professional to help give you tips and make your plan personalized to your needs.

Resources

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org – 800-273-8255 https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention https://www.nami.org/help

Jeff is a licensed occupational therapist and lead content creator for OT Dude. He covers all things occupational therapy as well as other topics including healthcare, wellness, mental health, technology, science, sociology, and philosophy. Buy me a Coffee on Venmo.