Safety Planning 101

By Maegan McConnell

When someone is in crisis, a safety plan can be helpful in many different ways. Everyone’s crisis looks different, which means that everyone’s safety plan will also be different to fit each individual’s needs. A safety plan can be used for:
  • Panic Attacks
  • Extreme Anxiety
  • Suicide Risk
  • Domestic Violence

A safety plan can be done for yourself, by yourself, or with the support of someone else. But you definitely can’t make a safety plan for someone else without their input… it just wouldn’t work.

Here are 10 steps to a safety plan. Remember everyone is different, so if certain sections aren’t for you, that’s alright.

Step 1:
Think, or have a conversation, about what a safety plan is and how it might be helpful.
  • A safety plan is like a map a person can follow if they are lost. While in a crisis we often lose the ability to think ahead and problem solve. This map will help guide you to where you want to be and what support you want to get.
  • Safety plans are only helpful if they are developed by the person who will be using them. All the answers to the different sections need to primarily come from the person who is going to use the safety plan.
  • Your safety plan should be as accessible to you as possible (on your phone, in your wallet, on your fridge…)
Step 2:
Identify how you know when the safety plan needs to be used. This will be different for everyone, and can change from day to day. Some examples of when safety plans can be used include:
  • If someone is feeling lonely and isolated, and is not sure how to reach out to supports
  • If someone is feeling too anxious to participate in their daily activities
  • If someone is feeling like they want to self harm (cutting, burning, excessive drugs/alcohol, etc.)
  • If someone is thinking about suicide
  • If someone is attempting suicide
Step 3:

Find whatever you will write the safety plan down on and make yourself comfortable. (Paper/Pen, Computer, Phone etc)

Step 4:
Write down and identify three or more people who you can call for support.
  • Make sure you have an array of choices for support, so that you can choose the person who is most appropriate to help you (family member/friend/therapist/crisis line)
  • Make sure a 24 hour crisis line is always included, in case none of the other contacts pick up their phone right away
Step 5:
Write down three or more places that you can go to make you feel safe.
  • These places should all be different, to accommodate how you are feeling at the time of crisis
  • Make sure these locations aren’t isolated with little access to support (down by the river, on the highway, etc.)
  • It is helpful if the people identified in step 4 and the locations in step 5 align sometimes, because then you get a safe space with a supportive person all at the same time
  • Make sure one of these locations is the hospital or police station, in case it is a time of day/night where the other spaces are not available or do not provide enough comfort or safety
Step 6:
Write down three or more things that make you happy (or feel better).
  • Identify things that make you feel happy, calm, or a bit better. Some activities can be things you like doing alone. You can also list a support person to do the activity with.
  • Make sure these items are realistic. Going to Disneyland may make you happy, but it is unlikely to be a realistic option during your time of crisis.
  • Everyone has different things that make them happy. If you are struggling to find ideas, ask a friend or support person to help you come up with ideas. They might be able to spark your memory and remind you of things you like doing.
  • This step can be very hard if you are still feeling in crisis. If this step is not possible just yet, leave the spot open on the page here, and come back to it later.
Write down these sentences and fill in the blanks.
I can handle this because _____________________________
I know I will be ok because _____________________________
I am (add positive sentence) _________________________
  • Writing these when you are well and not in crisis means you are creating positive self talk for your ‘in crisis self’
  • If you answer these yourself,  it makes it harder for you to refute these ideas when feeling unwell or in crisis, and can be a good reminder of how you can try to think positively
Step 7:
Write down three or more things that have kept you safe and out of crisis in the past. If you have had a similar feeling of crisis before, what has prevented you from hurting yourself?
  • You may find some overlap here from the above steps (specifically a person or activity that has helped in the past)
  • Again, having multiple options will provide variety when using this in a crisis later on
  • If the creative juices are flowing, try not to have any overlap from the steps above to create even more options for later
Step 8:
Write down a breathing exercise or mindfulness practice that might be helpful in a crisis.
  • Some people practice breathing exercises or mindfulness on a regular basis to deal with their mental health issues. This is a great time to be reminded of what you usually use to mitigate these symptoms
  • This is a good time to brainstorm what you have heard other people are doing, or what you have been suggested to do in the past and put it into the plan
  • During this step is a great opportunity to practice one of these breathing or mindfulness activities. See what you like best and write it down.
Step 9:
Write down what you will do if none of the steps of the safety plan work, or if you are so unwell you are unable to use the safety plan.
  • The answer to this one should always be to call for professional help.
  • If you are unable to call your healthcare provider or the crisis line at this time, call 911.
Step 10:
Review the safety plan and think about how it might be used moving forward.
  • Make sure that all the ideas and plans are made by or supported by you – the person who will be using it
  • Make sure that you will be keeping the safety plan somewhere you can access it easily
  • Some people like to share their safety plan with the people around them, to provide a map for the other person as to how to help if you are in a crisis situation. You could also share it with a support person and talk the plan through with them.
  • Congratulate yourself on being able to come up with so many great ideas about who can help, how you help yourself and what you can do to keep safe