Prisoners and suicidal thoughts
This page explains what you can do if you are having thoughts about ending your life. This information is for adults affected by mental illness in England. It’s also for their loved ones and carers and anyone interested in this subject.
If you would like more advice or information you can contact our Advice and Information Service by clicking here.
- Just try to get through today. Try not to focus on the future.
- Talk about your feelings with someone you trust.
- Speak to a healthcare professional at the prison.
- Do things you enjoy, such as drawing and writing in your cell, exercise or education.
- Raise the alarm in your cell if you want to hurt yourself or end your life now.
Need more advice?
How can I help myself now?
How can I help myself now?
There are different things you can try to help yourself now. Everybody is different. So, what works for someone else, might not work for you. You can try different things to see what helps.
Don’t act on your thoughts straightaway
You don’t need to act on your thoughts straight away. Step back and think about things first. Read the advice below.
Just think about getting through today and not the rest of your life. You might have found that you were able to cope with these thoughts a bit better in the past. You might be able to cope with them better again in the future.
Think about things that make you feel low
It might help to think about what is making you feel low and triggers these feelings. A trigger is something which might make you feel worse. Some people find that certain music or photos make them feel worse. Try and avoid these or give them to prison staff.
If you have anything that could help you to act on your thoughts, like something sharp, you can also give this to a staff member.
It can be hard to not think about negative things in prison. But thinking about ending your own life, and the reasons you feel like this, can make those feelings stronger. Try thinking about something else. Or try to distract yourself by keeping busy.
For example, you could:
- tidy your cell,
- try writing or drawing something,
- choose an object and think of 10 different ways to use it,
- count to 500,
- be around other people when you are allowed,
- sign up to a class or job in prison,
- write down your negative thoughts and then screw the paper up and throw it away,
- read a book from the library, or
- write a letter to a relative or friend.
You might think these things won’t take your mind off what you are thinking. But distracting yourself can be a useful way of managing your thoughts better.
Avoid alcohol or drugs
Alcohol can affect your behaviour, judgement, concentration and emotions. Try to avoid drinking alcohol if you are feeling suicidal. It can make you feel worse.
Drugs also affect the way you think and feel. Try and avoid illegal drugs if you are feeling suicidal. You may be more likely to take your own life if you take illegal drugs.
Exercise can help you to feel good physically and feel better about yourself. Doing exercise can also give you something to focus on. You could try doing crunches or yoga in your cell or visit the prison gym when you can.
There may be yoga classes on National Prison radio. Or you might be able to find books on yoga in the library. Or you can ask the Prison Phoenix Trust to send you some free CD’s and books on yoga. Their contact details are in the Useful contacts section below.
Relaxing in prison can be difficult. But there are some things you can try to help.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation. It may help you to focus on the present moment. This may help stop you focusing on suicidal thoughts.
Some mindfulness techniques can be simple but effective, such as the 5-4-3-2-1 practice:
- Look around you. Pick 5 things and study them closely, their shape, their colour, their details. Do this one at a time for each of the 5 things.
- Close your eyes and pick out 4 things you can hear, like talking or someone walking.
- Then choose 3 things you can feel. It can be anything, the clothes you are wearing, a pen, a book.
- Now, pick out 2 things you can smell. It’s fine if you can only smell one thing.
- Lastly, concentrate on one thing you can taste. Your tongue is fine.
The Prison Phoenix Trust can also send you free materials on meditation.
Make a list of positive things
It might be hard to think of things right now but you can try. Think about what’s good about you. For example, are you kind? Are you helpful? Are you hard working?
Think about good things. For example, are you doing a course or a job in prison? Do you have people you can talk to? Are you looking forward to anything coming up in the future?
You can think about these things and even write them down. This can help you avoid thinking about negative things.
Make a list of what helped when you were feeling low before
Think about what helped when you have felt low in the past. For example, did you distract yourself with something or speak to someone? This list might be useful to look at whenever you feel low.
Talk to other people
Talk to someone you trust, such as:
- prison staff,
- other prisoners, and
- family or friends.
You could also try calling an emotional helpline. You can read more about the people you can speak to in the next section. There is a list of emotional helplines you could call in the Useful contacts section below.
How can I get help and support?
How can I get help and support?
You might feel alone but remember that there are people who can help. Speaking to someone can help you feel better.
Doctors in prison
You can speak to a doctor in prison. They could offer you medication or therapy if they think you have a mental health condition. To see a doctor, you can make a ‘general application’. The doctor can refer you to a specialist mental health team if they think you need more support.
You can find more information about ‘Healthcare in Prison’ by clicking here.
Safer Custody Team
The Safer Custody Team (SCT) is a team of prison staff. They help to manage prisoners at risk of self-harm or suicide.
If a member of staff thinks you are at risk of self-harm or suicide, you will get help under the 'ACCT' process. This stands for ‘Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork’.
Any member of prison staff who is worried about you will record their concerns. The SCT will then plan how they can keep you safe.
If you are worried that you are at risk of suicide, then speak to a member of staff. They can pass your details to the SCT.
When you go into prison you may be given a personal officer. This is a staff member that you can go to for information, advice and support. They are also the officer that will give you references for things like jobs or a change in status. Not all adult prisons run a personal officer scheme.
If you are feeling suicidal your personal officer might be able to help. If you aren’t sure who your personal officer is, ask another staff member to find out for you.
A prison chaplain can give you spiritual support and guidance. You can talk to them if you are feeling suicidal. The chaplain will help people of all religions. They will also help you if you are not religious.
You may be able to see a humanist pastoral support visitor if you would prefer to see them.
The listener scheme is run by the Samaritans. They train certain prisoners to become listeners. You can speak to a listener about how you are feeling. They can provide confidential, emotional support to you.
Insiders are other prisoners who have been trained to give you information and reassurance when you first go to prison. They aim to make you feel less anxious during your first few days or weeks in prison. You could speak to your insider if you need help.
Making a crisis plan in prison
A crisis plan is sometimes called a safety plan. It is there to help you be safe when you are feeling suicidal. You can make a plan as soon as possible if you are feeling suicidal. A doctor or someone from the Safer Custody Team may be able to help you make a crisis plan.
A crisis plan is something to help you think about what support you need when you are in crisis. In prison your options are more limited. But you could try listing the things that you can do to help yourself. You could also write down the names of your personal officer, insider or a listener at the prison. Having all this information to hand may help to make suicidal thoughts easier to handle.
There is no set way for how a crisis plan should look. But there is a crisis plan template in the factsheet which you can download using the link at the top of this page.
Carers, friends & relatives
I’m a carers, friend or relative: What can I do?
You might be worried about your friend or relative while they are in prison. If you are worried that they may attempt suicide, it is important to speak to someone.
If you’re worried you can:
- tell a member of staff,
- contact the ‘Safer Custody Team’, or
- contact the Duty Governor.
Some prisons have Safer Custody hotlines where you can leave a message explaining your concerns.
The Samaritans are there to listen to you if you want to talk to someone.
All prisons should have direct lines to either the local branch or the
Telephone: 116 123
Address: Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, Chris, PO Box 9090, STIRLING, FK8 2SA
Face to face: If there is no Listener at your prison, Samaritans may visit you. If you are on ROTL (Release on Temporary Licence), you can visit your local branch.
C.A.L.M. (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
This organisation helps men dealing with suicidal thoughts or emotional distress. They have a webchat service available through their website.
Telephone (outside London): 0800 58 58 58 (5pm to midnight, 7 days per week)
Telephone (London): 0808 802 5858 (5pm to midnight, 7 days per week)
Address: CALM, PO Box 68766, London SE1P 4JZ
Sane run a national, out-of-hours helpline. They offer emotional support and information to anyone affected by mental illness. This includes family, friends and carers.
Telephone: 07984 967 708 / 0300 304 7000
They offer confidential emotional support to everyone by telephone, email and post. They can talk to you about any issue.
Telephone: 01708 765200 (hours change, ring to find out)
Address: PO Box 2860, Romford, Essex RM7 1JA
Switchboard – LGBT + Helpline
Switchboard gives practical and emotional support for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. You can talk to them about any issue. They have a webchat service on their website.
Telephone: 0300 330 0630 (open 10am – 10pm)
This is a national charity to stop young suicide. They run HOPELineUK. They give advice to anyone up to the age of 35 who are worried about how they are feeling and anyone who is concerned about a young person.
Telephone: 0800 068 41 41 (open Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm and bank holidays 2pm to 5pm)
Text: 07786 209697
Address: Lineva House, 28-32 Milner Street, Warrington, Cheshire, WA5 1AD
The Prison Phoenix Trust
They help prisoners with yoga and meditation in prison. You can ask them to send free books to help with relaxation in your cell.
Telephone: 01865 512 521
Address: The Prison Phoenix Trust, PO Box 328, Oxford, OX2 7HF
Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt)
This organisation can help people in prison with drug and alcohol addictions.
Telephone: 020 3981 5525
Address: The Forward Trust, Unit 106 - 7, Edinburgh House, 70 Kennington Lane, London SE11 5DP
Alcoholics Anonymous Great Britain
This organisation provides guidance and support to prisoners struggling with addiction. They can provide meetings and visits in prison.
Telephone: 0800 9177 650
Address: Alcoholics Anonymous, PO Box 1, 10 Toft Green, York YO1 7NJ.