Safety Planning to Reduce Risk for Suicide and Self Harm
According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the 2nd leading cause of death for individuals aged 10-34. Suicide rates have been steadily increasing across the country with recent data showing that suicidal thoughts are increasing in young people during the pandemic. Understanding risk factors and warning signs is an important step in preventing suicide. In addition, creating a safety plan with individuals who are determined to be at risk for suicide may help lower their risk of death and facilitate use of effective coping strategies to reduce emotional distress.
What is a safety plan?
Developed by Barbara Stanley and Gregory K. Brown, a suicide safety plan is a prioritized written list of coping strategies and sources of support to be used by patients who have been assessed to be at high risk for suicide. The goal of this intervention is to provide patients with a specific set of concrete strategies to use in times of crisis, in order to decrease the risk of suicidal behavior.
Who should have a safety plan?
A safety plan is recommended for anyone who may be at risk for suicidal thoughts and gestures and/or self-harming behavior (e.g., cutting). This includes individuals who have a history of suicidal thoughts and/or suicidal attempts. It is intended to be created collaboratively with a trained professional who can safely and appropriately assess and manage safety risks.
What is included in a safety plan?
  • Triggers and warning Signs: These may include personal situations, thoughts, images, thinking styles, mood, or behavior that may indicate distress or may trigger suicidal thinking or feelings.

  • Coping strategies: Coping strategies include activities or skills learned in therapy that may help alleviate distress and prevent suicidal thoughts from escalating.

  • Who to contact for help: This includes friends, family, or community members that the individual may contact for support or distraction.

  • Who to contact in an emergency: Include a list of professionals currently working with the individual (e.g., therapist, psychiatrist) as well as a list of crisis resources and local agencies.

  • Ways to make the environment safe: This helps patients plan how to remove access to potentially dangerous items, such as guns and medications, to reduce the risk of suicide.
When should a safety plan be implemented?
Components of a safety plan should be implemented as soon as an individual recognizes triggers and warning signs for distress and suicidal thoughts. Utilizing effective coping strategies and/or contacting the appropriate loved ones, treatment providers, or crisis numbers may be effective in reducing distress and helping the individual gain control over his/her thinking and behavior. The plan can and should be modified over time as circumstances change.
What should I do in a crisis?
If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health emergency and safety concerns are imminent, get help immediately! Call 911 or go to your local emergency room and ask to speak to the psychiatrist on call.