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Coping with Suicidal Thoughts & Self Harm

Understanding and Coping with Suicidal Thoughts

CAVEAT:  This information is not health advice but aims to inform and help you understand suicidal ideation, its causes, and coping strategies. Seek professional help if needed

Suicidal thoughts and self-harm can be overwhelming and scary. If you or someone you know is experiencing these feelings, it’s important to understand why they happen, how to cope, and where to get help. In this article, we’ll explain how the brain works during times of stress, depression, or ADHD, why people might feel this way, ways to cope, and provide important numbers to call for help. Remember, this information is not health advice but aims to inform and help you understand these challenging feelings. Always seek professional help if needed.

Chemical Breakdown in the Brain

To start, let’s look at how the brain works. Our brain is like a control center, using chemicals called neurotransmitters to send messages between nerve cells. When these chemicals are imbalanced, it can affect how we feel and think.

Serotonin is one important neurotransmitter. It helps regulate mood, sleep, and appetite. When serotonin levels are low, it can lead to feelings of sadness and depression. Dopamine is another neurotransmitter involved in feelings of pleasure and reward. Low levels of dopamine can also contribute to depression and make it hard to feel happy.

Furthermore, cortisol, known as the stress hormone, can increase during stressful times. High levels of cortisol can lead to anxiety and depression. When these chemicals are imbalanced, it can make a person feel hopeless or overwhelmed, which may lead to suicidal thoughts or self-harm.


People might have suicidal thoughts for various reasons. Some common reasons include:

  1. Depression: Major depression is a leading cause of suicidal thoughts. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), about 60% of people who die by suicide have a mood disorder like depression.
  2. Traumatic Experiences: Experiencing trauma, such as abuse or the loss of a loved one, can lead to suicidal thoughts. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that trauma can cause changes in brain chemistry, leading to depression and anxiety.
  3. Chronic Illness: Living with a chronic illness or severe pain can also contribute to feelings of hopelessness. For example, people with chronic pain are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts compared to those without pain.
  4. Substance Abuse: Drug and alcohol abuse can worsen depression and lead to impulsive behavior. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that individuals with substance use disorders are six times more likely to attempt suicide.
  5. Isolation: Feeling isolated or lonely can make people feel like they have no one to turn to. According to a survey by Cigna, 61% of Americans feel lonely, which can contribute to depression and suicidal thoughts.

Ways to Cope

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, it’s crucial to find ways to cope. Here are some strategies:

  1. Talk to Someone: Talking to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor can provide relief. Sometimes just sharing your feelings can help reduce the burden.
  2. Seek Professional Help: A mental health professional can offer therapy and medication to help manage suicidal thoughts. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of therapy that has been shown to be effective.
  3. Create a Safety Plan: Having a safety plan can be helpful. This plan might include steps to take when feeling suicidal, such as calling a friend, going to a safe place, or contacting a crisis hotline.
  4. Practice Self-Care: Taking care of yourself can improve your mood. This includes eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising. Activities like meditation and deep breathing can also reduce stress.
  5. Stay Connected: Try to stay connected with friends and family. Even if it feels hard, social interaction can help you feel less alone.
  6. Avoid Alcohol and Drugs: Substance use can worsen depression and increase impulsivity. Avoiding these substances can help keep your thoughts clearer and more manageable.

Important Numbers to Call

When you’re in crisis, it’s vital to reach out for help. Here are some important numbers to call:

  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741. This service offers free, 24/7 support via text message.
  • Crisis Text Line: Click here
  • Michigan Crisis Lifeline:  Call 988. This is a confidential, free, 24/7 information service for individuals facing mental health or substance abuse issues.
  • Michigan Crisis Line: Click here
  • Trevor Lifeline (for LGBTQ+ youth): 1-866-488-7386. This is a crisis intervention and suicide prevention phone service available 24/7 for LGBTQ+ youth.
  •  The Trevor Project: Click here
  • Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. This is a confidential, free hotline available 24/7 for all veterans and their families.
  • Veterans Network: Click here


Understanding why suicidal thoughts occur and how to cope with them is crucial. The brain’s chemical changes can make these thoughts more intense, but knowing the reasons behind these feelings can help us address them better. Remember, there are many ways to cope, such as talking to someone, seeking professional help, creating a safety plan, practicing self-care, staying connected, and avoiding alcohol and drugs. Importantly, there are numerous resources and hotlines available to provide immediate help. Reaching out for support is a vital step in overcoming these thoughts and finding hope.

Suicidal thoughts are serious, but they are not something you have to face alone. There is help available, and with the right support and strategies, it is possible to get through these difficult times.


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Crisis Text Line | Text HOME to 741741 Free, 24/7 mental health support. (2024, June 18). Crisis Text Line. https://www.crisistextline.org/

Michigan Crisis and Access Line (MICAL). (n.d.). https://www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/keep-mi-healthy/mentalhealth/crisis-and-access-line

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