Safety planning helps people reduce their immediate risk of suicidal behaviour. It involves the person – ideally with support from a health professional – identifying coping and help-seeking strategies that are tailored for their needs, situation and personal relationships.
Together, the client and health professional develop a list of strategies that gradually progress from things the person can do by themselves through to social and external ways of coping. The resulting safety plan is then used during times of distress and crisis.
Why use safety planning?
Around 65,000 people attempt suicide in Australia each year, while many more think about it. Research suggests that most people who think about or attempt suicide don’t actually want to die – they just want their psychological pain and distress to stop. Safety planning provides a structured approach to help people manage psychological distress and suicidal thoughts, which can reduce their immediate risk of engaging in suicidal behaviour.
Who can benefit from safety planning?
Safety planning can be beneficial for anyone experiencing, or who has recently experienced, suicidal thoughts or behaviour.
What’s involved in safety planning?
Many clinicians use some form of safety planning with their suicidal clients. However, until recently there has been little formal structure to guide the process, with even less empirical research to support interventions. The Safety Planning Intervention (SPI) developed by Professor Barbara Stanley and Professor Gregory Brown (2012) brings much needed structure to this area of clinical practice.
The SPI model involves identifying actions within each of the steps below, which are reflected in the BeyondNow app:
- Recognising warning signs
- Creating a safe environment
- Identifying reasons to live
- Internal coping strategies
- Socialisation strategies for distraction and support
- Trusted contacts for assisting with a crisis
- Professional contacts for assisting with a crisis
Using BeyondNow with your client
Start by downloading the app from the App Store or Google Play and familiarising yourself with it. You can also check out our quick introduction to the different features, including editing and sharing a plan. If your client prefers, you can use the online version together and print or email them a copy.
When you're supporting your client to create their plan, asking questions can help them think about what might work for their situation and ensure any strategies meet their individual needs. We’ve developed a few prompts for each step below, or you could use the suggestions within the app to guide discussion and get ideas going.
Some people may not wish to complete a particular step or steps in the safety plan. Their plan is unique to them and is all about keeping safe, so if certain steps aren’t helpful or create an additional source of burden, stress or conflict, these can be left out.
Safety plans are designed to be followed step by step. However, it’s important to reinforce with your client that if they feel at imminent risk and are unable to remain safe – even for a short period of time – they should phone or present to an emergency service.