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What is a safety plan, and how can it prevent suicide?

By the Centre for Suicide Prevention, a branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association

While some people who consider suicide do so fleetingly or only once in their lives, others may experience ongoing thoughts of suicide or experience them off and on over time. People may feel that suicidal thoughts are holding them hostage. Experiencing these thoughts may feel like absolute darkness, hopelessness, pain, and like nothing matters but stopping that pain. As friends and loved ones, we may feel at a loss to help.

If the person at risk of suicide is in immediate crisis, the emergency department is the right place to go. Otherwise, creating a safety plan is a good way forward.

What is a safety plan?

A safety plan is a document that supports and guides someone when they are experiencing thoughts of suicide, to help them avoid a state of intense suicidal crisis. Anyone in a trusting relationship with the person at risk can help draft the plan; they do not need to be a professional.

When is a safety plan written?

A safety plan is written when a person is not experiencing intense suicidal thoughts. It may be written after a suicidal crisis, but not during, as at this time an individual can become overwhelmed with suicidal thoughts and confusion and may not be able to think clearly. A safety plan is written when a person has some hope for life so that they can identify their reasons for living, and positive actions they can take to prevent their thoughts from becoming intense and overwhelming.

Why does it work?

A safety plan is an approach designed to focus on a person’s strengths. Their unique abilities are identified and emphasized so they can draw on them when their suicidal thoughts become intense. The goal is to draw upon their strengths when they are recovering and healing (Xie, 2013). Personal resources are another integral component of a safety plan. Drawing on strengths is the “entry-level” activity; reaching out for help may also become necessary (Xie, 2013; Bergmans, personal communication, 2019).

When implemented, safety plans can help strengthen a person. For people who experience recurring suicidal thoughts or crises, one strength can be knowing they have weathered the storm before and have navigated their way out.

Learn more about Safety Planning with Centre for Suicide Prevention’s toolkit: Safety plans to prevent suicide.


Centre for Suicide Prevention. (2019). Safety plans to prevent suicide. Retrieved from Safety plans to prevent suicide

Xie, H. (2013). Strengths-based approach for mental health recovery. Iranian Journal of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, 7(2), 5-10. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939995

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