Imagine you are at your doctor’s office. The nurse takes you back to see the doctor – what do they do next? 

“Let me get your temperature, blood pressure, check your height and weight.” A process we are all used to: checking vital signs 

Imagine you’re a client of mine now (I’m a psychotherapist, or simply, a therapist). You come into my office. I’ll check your mental health vital signs: How are you sleeping? How’s your appetite? Your mood? Are you having fun? Are you hanging out with people? 

So far, pretty straightforward, right? Next question might get people nervous: Have you had thoughts of wanting to be dead or harming yourself?

Why am I having suicidal thoughts?

Suicidal thoughts happen for a lot of different reasons. Maybe it’s stress that feels neverending. We may feel like a burden to someone or not fit in anywhere. For BIPOC (black/indigineous/people of color) folks, racism can cause suicidal thoughts. Whatever the reason, please know that help is available.

How can I take care of myself?

First, tell someone about your stressors! The right people can be just what we need. If you don’t have a trusted person in your corner, call 9-8-8, the new crisis support number.

Keep doing the basics: Get enough sleep, eat all your meals, keep up with your hygiene. Then tap into the three Ps: meaningful people, meaningful places, and purpose.

What happens if I see a professional for my suicidal thoughts?

First, we want to make sure you are safe. These thoughts can be scary, and we don’t want you to be alone with them. 

We’ll check your mental health vital signs to see what might be helpful for you. A suicidal thought does not automatically mean hospital or medicine. Think of a regular doctor visit: If your temperature is high, the emergency room isn’t the first thing. Over-the-counter help might do the trick.

If you see a mental health professional, they’ll do something called a Safety Planning Intervention. It’s like a mental health version of “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” We might ask a family member to stay with you for the night as your stress level goes down. We want you safe in a comfortable place.

What goes up will come down – and that includes our stress and our mental and emotional challenges. They will come down eventually. No feeling is final.


About the Author: Sean Snyder is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who works in community mental health. He enjoys seeing all the dogs in Washington Square on his breaks, and loves Phillies baseball.