Updating a suicide safety plan: Mark’s story

Mark made multiple attempts to take his own life around 30 years ago.

A police officer at the time, he was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety and was unable to continue work.

Mark got through his suicidal crisis. Today, with the support of his partner, ongoing psychiatrist consultations, medication and his work as a volunteer, he is able to manage his mental health.

Developing a plan

He still experiences suicidal thoughts, but describes himself as safe, thanks in part to a comprehensive Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP).

As Mark explains it, “my WRAP has several stages of progression from really good, through to crisis. And for each one of those, there's a list of things that I would be doing; warning signs and also pre-thought out remedies. Beyond Now is one of the tools I use at the crisis level.”

In putting the information into Beyond Now, Mark felt that having his partner assist was vital as it meant he had “somebody who knew me well to remind me of things that could help, but which I perhaps couldn’t recall. It also means my partner does not feel as helpless in worrying situations.”

A key strength of the plan is that it allows for the reactions of people around him to help him gauge where he is at, which he says can be hard to do by himself when he is distressed.

A 72-year-old with serious spinal and respiratory issues, COVID-19 has had a profound impact on Mark’s ability to follow the measures he had in place.

So he updated them.

Responding to changes brought about by COVID-19

“The first thing I did was to ensure that people I would normally interact with, at all levels up to my psychiatrist, were able to talk with me by video, rather than by phone.”

“It (video conferencing) is not something I had done with them before, and it does make a difference,” he says, noting that being able to see people has been crucial, particularly his psychiatrist.

“I have the familiar face to talk to and I can see the ordinary room behind him – it lends an air of normality to the whole thing which, for me, is important.”

With regards to Mark’s daily activities, he says that “it's a question of substitution, and it's also a question of routine. Creating a more rigid voluntary structure to the day has been important.”

“One of the things that used to occupy a lot of my time was travel. Getting up, getting dressed, preparing my notes, then often listening to a podcast as I travelled to the meeting – these were a big part of things. Now of course, that's been reduced to a video conference in most cases, so there isn't the same enjoyment of actual travel,” he explains.

Instead, he tries to wake at the same time, get ready and listen to the same podcasts that he would in the car.

I have to pay more attention to how I am

“Unfortunately, the substitutes don't work as well as the original,” he says, “and sometimes there isn't really a substitute at all.”

He can’t, for instance, find a replacement for his daily walks by the river with his partner and their dog, which are not possible as his ailing health makes him particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

Instead, Mark tries new things that are possible. Such as bird watching from the backyard, increasing interaction with friends by video, and taking on tasks that distract him, such as cataloguing his video database.

Generally though, Mark says “I simply have to pay more attention to how I am.”

You can find out more about the Beyond Now app here, and learn some strategies for updating your suicide safety plan here.

If it feels like things are getting out of control, for immediate support call Lifeline on 13 11 14

If there is immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, always call triple zero (000).


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