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Thinking creatively about connections in a COVID world

Ideas for modifying Suicide Safety Plans in light of social distancing requirements

Article in Review: Pruitt, L., McIntosh, L. & Reger, G. (2020). Suicide Safety planning during a pandemic: The implications of COVID-19 on coping with a crisis. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviour, DOI: 10.1111/sltb.12641

Summary: A Suicide Safety Plan is a valuable tool used as crisis response and intervention tool for people who are suicidal. Often the plan contains a list of people to see or a distraction activity to be carried out in the case the risk of suicide is increased. In light of social distancing guidelines, some individuals may need assistance to review and update their Suicide Safety Plan. Following are some ideas for how this could be done.


Many clinicians and health professionals will be working with people who feel stressed, anxious or depressed about the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though Australia is faring well in terms of overall infection rates when compared to other countries, sustained uncertainty about restrictions, lockdowns and the national and global economy is taking its toll on some.

Many people will be dealing with stress as a result of having family living overseas, and they may not have been able to travel to see close family members for more than a year. The possibility of further lockdowns in Australia is not out of the question, and individuals are learning new ways of interacting and connecting with others to be compliant with quarantining rules and social distancing guidelines.

Access to long-standing supports and coping activities may not be possible for people who are at risk of suicide. Clinicians in Australia are working with suicidal patients to determine if any of the coping strategies that have been previously adopted or recommended the need to be altered or adapted in response to the pandemic.

Family visits

Not being able to see friends and family in person can feel challenging, upsetting and depressing. Family rituals such as a regular weekly dinner may not be able to occur as they have for many years. Technology can assist in providing a means for people to be able to connect with loved ones. Video calls, playing games together online or exchanging jokes, pictures and memes by text can provide alternatives to gatherings. Phone calls and letter writing might be more suitable communication methods for some people. Preparing a meal and delivering it to a loved one is another way to keep traditions based around food.


If gyms are closed or have restricted numbers, there are appropriate individual exercise options such as going for a walk in the local area or solitary hiking where travel to sites is permitted. In-home exercise equipment and machines may be able to be hired rather than purchased. Plenty of gyms, yoga teachers and PT (personal training) providers have shifted to the online delivery of sessions and classes. There are also free instructional exercise videos available on sites like YouTube.

Social activities

Many cultural institutions like galleries, museums and concert halls are showcasing their collections with virtual tours or performances. Likewise, national parks are providing online tours or live streaming of wildlife or environmental phenomena. Local councils may be able to provide links to online book or film clubs, presentations or lectures. There may also be local volunteer chat or welfare check call programs. Some libraries can provide access to collections through a non-contact click and collect service. Local pen pal matching services encourage communication between older people and children from local schools.


Volunteers who have had their role temporarily suspended due to COVID can feel frustrated or disappointed. They may be more likely to feel useless when they can’t contribute in the same ways they had been. It may be useful to find other, less formalised volunteering opportunities in the local community. This might include helping older neighbours put their bins out, doing shopping for friends, or making masks or other items to be donated to local charities.

Religion, Meditation and Mindfulness

Access to yoga, tai chi or meditation groups or classes might be restricted but many sessions are available online. There are a number of apps that can provide direction, support and mindfulness exercises. Setting up a section of home particularly for meditation helps establish a routine with mindfulness activities. For those unable to attend churches, many services are now broadcast online. Faith leaders may be able to take calls instead of completing usual visits. Some people find it helpful to make time to read meaningful passages from religious texts.

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