The Difference Between Thoughts and Plans

*Trigger Warning: this post talks about suicide, suicidal thoughts and suicidal plans.*


Whenever someone with depression or a mental illness that can prompt depression-like symptoms is in a counselling or therapy appointment, one of the most common questions asked by the therapist is: “have you made any plans to end your life?”  It’s a scary question and one that we don’t like to contemplate.  Whether we’ve had those thoughts or not, the notion that we might end our lives can be terrifying.

For friends and family members, it’s almost a taboo topic.  No one likes to hear that their loved one is having thoughts about their own death.  If you hear that someone close to you is considering ending their life, it might prompt you to reevaluate yourself, asking why you’re not enough to keep them here.

Regardless of who is talking about it – the therapist, the one suffering, the friend or the family member – suicide is never a pleasant topic.  That said, it is one that is integral to many mental health conditions and it’s important that we break down the stigmas attached.  So here, I’m going to tell you a few things about suicide that might help.

“Plans To End My Life”

For the majority of people, hearing someone talk about suicide immediately makes them think that person is planning to end their life.  Certainly, this might be a possibility and it seems to be the part of suicide that we hear the most about.  True, we hear about people who have committed suicide but whenever we hear about people who think of suicide, we hear about those who are making plans.

In many respects, it’s almost become something of a horror story.  Someone struggling with mental health mentions suicidal thoughts and next thing we know they’re being sectioned for their own safety.  OK, these things don’t quite go down like that, but it’s one of the impressions of suicide that I’ve heard.

But did you know that there is a difference between plans and thoughts?  It’s something that people forget but it’s a very important differentiation to note.

Suicidal Thoughts

Contrary to popular belief, suicidal thoughts are far more common than you might believe.  According to anyone can have them, regardless of their background or situation in life.  Yet it might surprise you to know it’s not quite as concerning as it’s made out to be.

Many of us who struggle with suicidal thoughts don’t actually have any intention of following through on them.  We have thoughts about how we would do it, we have thoughts about what the world would be like if we did do it but they aren’t plans.  They are abstract thoughts.  Think of them as the fleeting thoughts, the ones that aren’t too important, but surface every now and again.  A lot of the time, they’re not very intense and we’re not likely to act on them.  They are more like musings than actual proper, seriously considered thoughts.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not making light of suicidal thoughts.  If someone is having them then it is vital they consult a medical professional to determine whether there is an underlying problem.  What I am saying is that we, as friends and family members, should not freak out if someone we love comes to us and tells us they are having suicidal thoughts.  The best thing to do is to be understanding, to be calm and empathetic.

Having suicidal thoughts does not mean that we will necessarily act on them but they must be taken seriously nonetheless!

What You Need To Know

As with all aspects of mental health, suicidal thoughts vary from person to person.  Some experience them strongly, some don’t.  For some, they last a long time, for others they are fleeting.  As for reasons, some people have clear ones why they would be thinking of it, others might not know.  It is a complicated thing.  The best things you can do are:

No one likes admitting to having suicidal thoughts and it can be scary for both sides.  Yet it can be part and parcel of having depression, bipolar, BPD and other mental illnesses.  A counsellor once told me this:

“Suicidal thoughts aren’t necessarily a bad thing.  It means your mind is looking for a way out of your current situation.  All we have to do is provide it with an alternative.”

So what do you say?  Shall we work together to find an alternative for the ones we love?

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Author: Alex Davies

Alex Davies is the creator and writer for Pushing Back the Shadows. Find out more about his journey here and connect with him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

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