What is a safety plan, anyway?
A safety plan is a document that lists everything you can think of that will keep you safe from harming yourself or others, or from dipping way down the continuum of depression.
I’ve had one for many, many years. I now need to update it because I moved to another state and I need to rebuild my professional support team.
Do you have a safety plan? It can be very useful for those of us with emotional difficulties.
WHAT DO YOU INCLUDE IN A SAFETY PLAN?
If you Google “mental health safety plan”, you will find a plethora of examples. You can use one or more to guide you in building your own plan or you can just start typing things that you know will be helpful to you.
It’s important to remember that there is no “right” way to create a safety plan; each one is different, because everyone’s circumstances are different.
My safety plan includes the following headings (with examples):
- Goal statement: To have more good days than bad and stay out of the hospital.
- Warning signs
a. Specific thoughts: I can’t do this anymore, life sucks, it doesn’t matter what I do.
b. Feelings: Lonely, restless, get angry easily, anxious.
c. Physical signs: Irritable stomach, less than 6 hours of sleep, constant stiff neck and shoulders (tension).
d. Miscellaneous: Snacking a lot, how I talk to the people around me, lack of hygiene.
- Activities I can do to feel better: Go for a walk, clean, take a shower.
- Things I need to do to avoid a crisis: Take meds as directed, listen to music.
- Triggers: Feeling rushed, feeling incompetent, being embarrassed, etc.
Who I can call
b. Case manager
d. Someone from a support group
f. Primary care provider
g. Health insurance provider (member services)
h. County crisis team (you can find yours online)
i. Local crisis line
Of course, you can’t always predict a crisis, and you can’t avoid every crisis, but a safety plan can help you feel better and connect you with activities and people who can help.
I’m a list-maker and a planner by nature. If I don’t write things down, I will forget them. By having all of my mental health information in one place, it’s that much easier for me to remember to pay attention to certain things, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed and can’t think straight.
My depression usually comes on gradually, although it sometimes feels like it comes out of nowhere. One negative thought or experience goes through my head and my feelings get more intense, which leads to more negative thoughts. If I’m not paying attention, it’s likely to snowball and lead me deeper down the maddening spiral that is depression.
Often when I feel depressed, there doesn’t seem to be a reason for it. Thankfully, after years and years of therapy and learning (and practicing) coping skills, I’m usually able to shake those days off and chalk them up to human nature.
I am much more aware of my thoughts and feelings these days, which is a very good thing. I am usually able to verbalize what’s going on with me when I first notice it, instead of guessing and wondering about it and letting it fester until it has no choice but to *POP*.
It used to take me forever to get around to telling someone what’s happening in my brain. Back when I was a teenager, and for a couple of decades after, I would hide what I was feeling and thinking. It would take a lot of pain and worry to finally talk to someone about it.
One of the most important parts of a safety plan is writing down the names of people you can count on to lend you a hand, take you to a therapy appointment, or just plain listen when you need to talk. It helps solidify that there are people who care about you and are willing to help. It helps you realize that there is a way out.
SAFETY PLANS GIVE HOPE
I don’t know about you, but when I feel like I’m stuck and doomed to wallow in depression, I feel hopeless – and helpless – from the get-go. But with a plan in place, it gives me hope that I will find my way to the other side.
When I first learned about TMS I didn’t know what to think about it. I had never heard of it before, and my psychiatrist at the time didn’t know about it, either. Nonetheless, he was willing to help my case manager find the right people to contact so I could try it. After decades of intensive therapy and dozens of anti-depressant trials, I felt no relief. Thankfully, my shrink saw this and helped me out.
I started feeling a ton of relief after only a couple weeks of TMS, and even though I had gone into it with a positive mindset, I was still surprised to find myself feeling better. When that relief continued for a number of months, I knew I had finally found the treatment that worked for me.
That gave me hope.
Given my history and the nature of major depressive disorder, I knew it would return at some point. But just knowing that I had somewhere to turn helped me feel better. I was no longer so terrified, so handcuffed by my depression.
The same goes for a safety plan. Knowing that there were activities I could do, triggers I needed to look out for, and people who cared, made me feel better. I was hoping for the best and prepared for the worst at the same time.
That may seem like an oxymoron, but it is possible. In fact, for me, it’s necessary. I need to know that there is a way out or else those feelings of hopelessness and helplessness slip right in there.
So what do you think? Could you benefit from a safety plan? It couldn’t hurt, right?
Today I challenge you to create your own safety plan. You can Google the term for ideas or you can use my plan as a template. Whatever works for you. Remember, there is no right way to do it.
Grab a piece of paper, write down what comes to mind, and put it away for a couple of days. When you return to it, you may have more ideas to include.
Bonus points if you tape it up someplace where you’ll see it constantly.
Previously Published on Depression Warrior