Coping with Suicidal Thoughts and PTSD

People with PTSD are Almost Three Times More Likely to Attempt Suicide

depressed man
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Each year, more than 40,000 people in the United States commit suicide. Research shows people with post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, are more likely to attempt suicide or have suicidal thoughts. In fact, one study found those with PTSD were almost three times more likely to consider suicide and two and a half times more likely to attempt to take their own life.

Among military veterans, combat trauma and injuries are associated with a greater risk of suicide attempts, and among rape survivors with PTSD, roughly 13% have attempted suicide.

Given this, it is important for people who have experienced a traumatic event or have PTSD to be alert for suicidal thoughts and develop ways of coping with these thoughts. Catching and addressing these thoughts early on can prevent them from spiraling into a suicide attempt.

There are several coping strategies that can help diffuse suicidal thoughts. But don't wait for a crisis situation to try them. Look over them now and come up with a plan for the next time you experience suicidal thoughts. Here are some suggestions:

Stay Away From Weapons

A suicide attempt will be more likely to occur if you have the means readily available to you, such as guns, knives or other weapons, or unnecessary medications in your home. Remove these from your environment or go somewhere you will not have access to those means.

Go Someplace Safe

Identify several places you can go where you would be less likely to hurt yourself, such as public places like the mall, a coffee shop or restaurant, a busy park, a community center or a gym.

Once there, immerse yourself in that environment. Pay attention and be mindful of all the sights and sounds around you. Doing this will help put some distance between you and your suicidal thoughts.

Talk To Someone Supportive

Social support can be a wonderful way of coping when you are in a crisis. Call a family member or friend.

Let them know you need someone to talk to and would like their support. Change your environment by asking them if you can spend some time with them.

You can also call a suicide prevention hotline to talk to someone supportive. For example, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-TALK (8255) — is a 24-hour, toll-free hotline.

Talk To Your Therapist

Some therapists have ways for their patients to contact them outside of session if they are in crisis. If you have a therapist and you have a system like this in place, you should contact your therapist when you are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Your therapist can help you assess the seriousness of the situation, as well as assist you in coming up with ways of coping with those thoughts.

Challenge Suicidal Thoughts

When people feel down and depressed, it is common to have thoughts that are consistent with those moods, and as our moods change, so will our thoughts. Therefore, even though things may feel hopeless, this may just be a consequence of your mood and not necessarily how things really are.

Use self-monitoring to identify hopeless thoughts and challenge them. Is it not possible that your mood might change? Is there really no hope for the future?

Have you felt like this before, and if so, did things eventually get better? Ask yourself questions like these to challenge your thoughts of hopelessness.

Be Mindful of Your Thoughts

Another way of coping with suicidal thoughts is with mindfulness. "Take a step back" from your thoughts and watch them. Imagine your thoughts as clouds drifting across the sky.

Try not to look at your thoughts as "good" or "bad," but simply as thoughts or objects in your mind. Taking a mindful approach to thoughts of suicide or hopelessness can defuse them, limiting the power they have over your actions and mood.

Manage Your Mood

A number of coping strategies can be helpful in managing your mood.

For example, expressive writing or self-soothing coping strategies may help lessen the intensity of your sadness or anxiety. By improving your mood, you may also improve your thoughts, reducing your risk for suicide.

Go To The ER

If these coping strategies aren’t working to lessen suicidal thoughts, call the police or go to your local emergency room. This can be scary; however, it is most important for you to stay safe and alive.

Finally, if you don't have a therapist and are experiencing suicidal thoughts, it is important to get a psychiatric evaluation, as well as a therapist.

Suicidal thoughts are a sign that you may some immediate need help with your symptoms. You can find PTSD treatment providers in your area through UCompare HealthCare.


10 Leading Causes of Death By Age Group, United States — 2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.​

Chapman, A.L., & Gratz, K.L. (2007) The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

National Center for Victims of Crime & Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center. (1992). Rape in American: A Report to the Nation. Arlington, VA: National Center for Victims of Crime.

Sareen J, Houlahan T, Cox BJ, Asmundson GJ. Anxiety disorders associated with suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in the National Comorbidity Survey. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2005 Jul;193(7):450-4.

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