Creating a Safety Plan With Your Family, Friends, or Therapist & How to Respond as a Family Member

Content Warning: In this post, suicide and the experience of having someone close to you struggle with suicidal thoughts is talked about. We acknowledge this may be a difficult topic for many, and encourage you to read only as it feels safe for you to do so.

What exactly is a safety plan?

A safety plan is a plan that you, as someone who experiences suicidal thoughts, put together with your family, friends, or therapist that has steps for yourself and them to follow as well as plans to help guide you all should you find yourself in a dangerous situation. It can help empower your friends and loved ones to have this plan available to them, to know they have guidance in place if you need help. Feeling helpless when a loved one is in distress and having suicidal thoughts is one of the worst feelings, and one that so many people find themselves in every year. Putting together a safety plan not only helps you have all your tools in one place, but it helps prevent your friends and family from feeling that helplessness and gives them the information they need to help you and keep you safe.

A lot of people think of a therapist for anxiety or a therapist for depression, but many choose to create their suicide safety plan with their therapist as well. Your therapist can help you create your plan with items that can help you the most efficiently since they know you well, and then you can share it with your friends and family and get feedback and answer any questions they may have. But if you don’t currently have a therapist, that’s okay! A safety plan is something you can create with anyone who you trust and can be open and honest with. The end goal is to have resources and steps on the plan that help you the most when you need it, so regardless of who helps you create it, it will still come down to you and your needs and what will help move you through a dark time the most. Your friends and family will simply use it as a guide to help you through and take the right actions.

What kind of things are included in a safety plan and where do you even start when you decide to create one? Here we’ll go through items that are commonly included and are most helpful to have for yourself and the people around you. These things are included on the Brown Stanley Safety Plan, and we suggest having all of these components in your own safety plan, as they can all be helpful and serve a purpose!

    • Warning signs. This is a list of warning signs that can alert you or the people around you that you are shifting into a dark place and a crisis could be developing. These can include warning signs for other people to look out for, like mood changes, certain behaviors, a specific attitude, or maybe certain statements you make. These warning signs should also include things for you to be aware of, such as changing thoughts, certain situations that may cause your mental health to decline, or being around specific people.
  • Internal coping strategies. Internal coping strategies are for you to have available to you to help take your mind off of your problems and distract you from dangerous thoughts. These are coping strategies you can use on your own and don’t need another person present for or need to reach out to another person for. Internal coping strategies can be things like deep breathing or meditation, taking a nap, reading a book, physical exercise, drawing or painting, or writing in a journal. Make a list of your internal coping strategies so you have options available and you can just choose one or two to try when needed!
  • People and social settings that provide distraction. These are places you can go and people you can call to help distract you from your thoughts. Please list three or four people, along with their phone numbers, just in case the first person you call isn’t available! This way you have others to reach out to. These people are important, especially now, when you may not have the opportunity to use your social settings as distractions due to the pandemic. Some places that could be available to you can be as simple as a friend’s home where you have company and someone to talk to, or a public park where there are others around and you can bring a book or journal with you and do some reading or writing.
  • People who you can ask for help. This is an important one to put some thought into, because these have to be people you truly feel safe and comfortable reaching out to when you are in crisis. It can also be very helpful to talk to them and let them know you’d like to put them on your safety plan and be able to rely on them when you’re in need or have an emergency. Knowing they’re aware can make it easier if the time does come to reach out to them for help. Please list three or four people in this section also as a way to have multiple options in case someone isn’t available to answer their phone!
  • Professionals and organizations you can contact during crisis. This is a list of important phone numbers and addresses that you can use in an emergency. This list should include your therapist, your local hospital emergency room phone number and address, 9-1-1, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), and any other hotlines that may be helpful for you, such as The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386) or YouthLine Text Line (text teen2teen to 839863). You can find more resources to include in your plan on our Mental Health Resources page.

  • Ways to make your environment safe. This is a list of ways you or a loved one can help make your environment safer for you to be in. Maybe this means removing medications from your access, holding onto your car keys for you, or removing alcohol from your location. Anything you can think of that would create a safer environment more conducive to your wellbeing.
  • Lastly, make a statement at the bottom of your plan that reminds you of something that’s important to you and worth living for.

This should be the basis of your safety plan, although you can add things as needed that may be helpful for you in times of distress or crisis.

As a family member, working on a safety plan with someone you love or being approached with a safety plan that someone is entrusting you with can be overwhelming. There are a few important things to remember:

  • Your loved one is safer with this plan in place, this is a good thing.
  • You are empowered and better prepared with this plan in place.
  • Your loved one is likely overwhelmed as well. Knowing this, use it to relate and find some common ground with each other and make the experience one of further trust-building.

Your response to their safety plan can influence how comfortable they will be with coming to you in a time of need. Responding in an open, gentle, willing, and non-judgmental way will ensure your loved one feels accepted and safe sharing this information with you and choosing you to be a part of their safety team. Ask questions in a way that shows you’re invested in your loved one’s safety plan and wellbeing. Tell them you’re proud of them for taking this step. These are a few ways to be sure your response creates an open door with your loved one and leaves them feeling comfortable with their choice to come to you.

Safety plans may not be one of the first things you think of when you think of suicide prevention, but their importance in the suicide prevention space is high! If you think you or a loved one could benefit from a suicide safety plan, we encourage you to share this information and put together a plan. While safety plans don’t eliminate risk, they do provide support and close a gap between having a crisis and getting help. When you have a guide that can bring you through each step, you can get help and recover more quickly, and that’s the ultimate goal of suicide prevention: to continue saving lives, one beautiful, worthy human at a time.