Have you ever heard of the term “safety plan” and wondered what it meant? This blog may help! In this blog, we discuss:
- What safety planning is and how it can help to keep people safe from suicide
- How to develop a safety plan
- Different formats that can help you to make the best use of your or your loved ones safety plan.
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” (Centre for Suicide Prevention, 2019). A safety plan may help to keep someone safe from suicide by identifying the individuals’ strengths, including coping strategies that can be used, people that can be contacted for support, and reasons to live.
Safety plans can be effective because the individual experiencing thoughts of suicide is a co-creator of the plan and identifies a range of options for coping and support, helping those with thoughts of suicide to feel like they have some control.
Safety Plan vs. Crisis Plan vs. Safety Contract
A safety plan is different from both a crisis plan and a safety contract.
Safety contracts were historically used between a mental health clinician and the service user, and involved the service user agreeing not to harm themselves. Safety contracts may be seen as coercive and limiting, and is considered ineffective in helping to keep someone safe from suicide (Marshall et al., 2022).
Crisis Response Planning, also known as a crisis plan, is more similar to a safety plan. It involves identifying and listing many of the same components, such as warning signs, coping strategies, and professional support. But, a crisis plan often focuses on what won’t be done in a crisis, rather than what can be done. It is often developed as part of discharge planning but the challenge is that individuals may not feel like they are actively participating in the process.
A safety plan is different because it has the added component of creating a safer environment through reducing access to lethal means of suicide. It also focuses on what the person can do, instead of can’t do, and emphasizes the collaborative development process.
Developing a Safety Plan
A safety plan should be developed during a period of mental wellbeing, or when an individual is stable and no longer experiencing crisis. Safety plans are often co-developed with a member of your support team or a trusted loved one. You also may be able to develop a safety plan on your own. It can be created in one-sitting, or can involve a process over a period of time.
There are different versions of safety plans, but most include identifying and listing the following components:
- Warning signs that indicate a suicidal crisis may be developing.
- Coping strategies that can be used to divert thoughts, including suicidal thoughts.
- Places and people that can be used as a distraction from thoughts of suicide.
- People that can be contracted in a crisis, along with their contact information.
- Mental health providers and the hours they can be reached, as well as 24/7 emergency contact numbers that can be used in a crisis.
- Steps to be taken to remove access to means of suicide from the environment.
- Important reasons to live, or how/why that person is still alive.
It is important to review the safety plan regularly and to revise it as often as needed. It can also be helpful to review the safety plan after it is used, to edit any coping skills or contact persons who were not accessible or effective.
For a more detailed explanation of each step, including guiding questions and examples, check out the Safety Plans to Prevent Suicide toolkit by the Centre for Suicide Prevention here.
Safety Plan Formats
Although the definition of a safety plan mentions that it can be a document, there are actually a number of different formats you can use for your safety plan. Formats for safety plans may include:
- Document with words, images or both!
- Keyring with cards
- Using a phone app, such as the BeSafe app
- Using the notes feature on your phone, tablet or other device
Regardless of the format(s) you choose to use, it is important that your safety plan is easy to access when you are struggling.
Resources for Further Learning
This toolkit provides a deeper explanation of safety planning and the seven steps to developing a safety plan.
This website is operated by Vibrant Emotional Health and is a web-based platform to help you develop your safety plan. After completing the form, users have the option to send the safety plan to themselves via text or email, or can save it to their device as a PDF.
Centre for Suicide Prevention (2019). Safety plans to prevent suicide. Accessed from: Safety plans to prevent suicide – Centre for Suicide Prevention (suicideinfo.ca)
Marshall, C. et al. (2022). Effectiveness of suicide safety planning interventions: A systemic review informing occupational therapy. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 1-29.
Nuij, C. et al. (2021). Safety planning-type interventions for suicide prevention: meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 219,4129-426.