Feeling overwhelmed

In spite of feeling that you have no control over your life, there may be some things that you - and other people – can do to make things better.

Several people have helped to put this information together. Some of us are professionally qualified, some of us have lived through times of great distress ourselves.

We all want to make sure that you know what help you can get to stay safe and how you can get it.

We know that you may feel completely helpless - we’re just glad that you have taken the time to read this. In spite of feeling that you have no control over your life, there may be some things that you – and other people - can do to make things better.

There will be people who really do want to help. You may know them already, like your family and friends, or they may be professionals who you have not met yet.


This leaflet provides information, not advice.

The content in this leaflet is provided for general information only. It is not intended to, and does not, mount to advice which you should rely on. It is not in any way an alternative to specific advice.

You must therefore obtain the relevant professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action based on the information in this leaflet.

If you have questions about any medical matter, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider without delay.

If you think you are experiencing any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention from a doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

Although we make reasonable efforts to compile accurate information in our leaflets and to update the information in our leaflets, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in this leaflet is accurate, complete or up to date.

Bad things happen to all of us – but it can be hard to talk about them. Other people may find it difficult to help. They find it hard to know what to say to someone you know who is going through it.

When things go wrong, each of us reacts in a different way. You could feel numbed, agitated or shocked. You may find yourself overwhelmed by your feelings - or cut off from them.

It can feel really lonely when you are distressed. We hope that the information in this leaflet can help you to feel less alone, in spite of in your troubles.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when bad things happen. There may not be a simple answer or the pain may seem just too much to bear. You may even have thoughts that your life is just not worth living. This might be the time to get some help.

Suicidal thoughts are quite common but we tend not to talk about them. It can be embarrassing or frightening to tell someone else about such private thoughts.

And most people with suicidal thoughts manage to keep themselves safe. Being honest with yourself is the first step in keeping yourself safe. If you are reading this leaflet, it could be helpful for you to share your worries and distress with someone else.

It is never too late to take action, even if the situation seems hopeless.

It can be hard to share private thoughts and feelings. But if you do, it can help, and can be a real way of getting through a bad time.  

However you feel, and however personal it seems, other people will have gone through similar things and so really can understand something of what you are going through.

Finding someone you can trust is the first step. You may have someone in mind already. Talking and being listened to can help you to get things clearer in your mind and feel more hopeful.

Sometimes it can be easier to talk things over with someone who does not know you. It might be hard to believe that someone you haven't met before cares about you and your situation, but there are people who do care and want to listen.

If you are having thoughts of harming yourself in any way, we would encourage you to:

  • tell a trusted friend or relative
  • make an appointment to see your GP (family doctor)
  • contact one of the organisations listed on the leaflet
  • go to the Emergency Department (previously called A&E) in your local hospital.
It is important to find support from an adult you can talk to and trust.

Please don't feel that you have to cope with all your problems alone.

Most young people will turn to their parents or carers.

If you feel you need support from outside your immediate family, please think about speaking to another relative, your teacher, school counselor, school nurse, youth worker or social worker (if you have one).

You can help yourself in many ways. You can start by making a ‘safety plan’ for yourself. This is a plan to help you keep safe - it will work best if you put it together yourself and choose the kind of support that you think will be helpful.

Only you can find your own reasons for living. If you find it hard to see any future at all, it may be time for you to think about allowing someone to help you get through this difficult time.

A safety plan can help organise your thoughts, so you get the right support at the times you need it.

Make a simple list of the things you can do for yourself and the people who you would like to support you.

It’s easier if we know who we can talk to before we need them. You may want to ask someone else to help you put it together. You may find it helpful to include reminders of the good things in your life and things to look forward to in the future.

A safety plan could include:

  • Activities: take part in sports or go for a walk; listen to music that makes you feel happy, play an instrument, ‘air drums’; write your feelings down; look after a pet, walk a friend's dog; do something to help someone else – nothing feels quite as good as knowing we have a purpose in life.
  • Names of supportive family and friends.
  • Keep a reminder of the people and things you love on your mobile or in your pocket, wallet or purse; some people like to carry photos of people or animals they care about.
  • Professional support.
  • Voluntary support organisations (see below).
  • Things to do if your suicidal thoughts are getting stronger or you can’t ignore them.
  • Keep this leaflet in a safe place. You never know when you, or someone you care about, might need it.

My Safety Plan

  • Thousands of people are overwhelmed every day … but find ways to get through these intense feelings - like them, you can get through it.
  • You just have to cope with one day at a time.
  • Your distress can be a sign that you need to change something in your life.

Anything you tell them will be completely confidential.

The volunteers are ordinary people who won't judge you. Some of the most popular organisations are listed below. You may contact as many or as few as you like - it's up to you and it's OK to contact more than one.

Papyrus HOPELineUK: 

Tel: 0800 068 41 41 (Mon to Fri 10am-5pm and 7pm-10pm, Weekends 2pm-5pm).

Papyrus aims to prevent young people taking their own lives. A professionally staffed helpline provides support, practical advice and information both to young people worried about themselves, and to anyone concerned that a young person may harm themselves.

Papyrus has a range of helpful resources including HOPELineUK contact cards or call 01925 572444 for a sample pack.


Tel: 116 123 (24/7)

Email: jo@samaritans.org

A 24/7 helpline service which gives you a safe space where you can talk about what is happening, how you are feeling, and how to find your own way forward.

Samaritans volunteers are ordinary people from all walks of life who understand that there are sometimes things that you just cannot talk about to the people around you.

They know that very often, with some time and space, people are able to find their own solution within themselves.

The National Self-Harm Network: Tel: 0800 622 6000 (7pm to 11pm)

A forum and resources for those who self-harm and their families, and for professionals who support them. Tips on what to do or say and what not to do or say if you are supporting someone who self-harms. Advice on the use of distractions if a person is trying not to self-harm.

Get Connected: Tel: 080 8808 4994 (1pm to 11pm)

Offers help by telephone and email for young people (under 25) who self-harm.


TheSite.org offers information and support to all the UK's 16-25 year-olds. It includes specific support and advice about self-harm.


Internet Self-Harm Support Community. It also provides support for any emotional problems, in addition to self-harm.

Support specifically designed for children and young people


Tel: 08000 111

If you are worried about anything, it could be something big or something small, don't bottle it up. It can really help if you talk to someone. If there is something on your mind, ChildLine is here for you.


Website for young people aged 11 to 19 affected by self harm.  E: info@selfharm.co.uk


YoungMinds is committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people, they have lots of information.

Other sources of support

Big White Wall

A safe, online, anonymous service for people over the age of 16. Get the support of others who feel like you, 24/7, and learn ways to feel better and how to get on top of your own troubles. Keep safe through the 24/7 support of trained Wall Guides. 

Call Helpline (Wales): Tel: 0800 132 737

A 24/7 service offering free emotional support and information/literature on mental health and related matters to people in Wales. Text 'help' to 81066.

CALM: Campaign Against Living Miserably: Tel: 0800 585858

Offers help via the website and a helpline for men aged 15-35 who are feeling depressed or down. Callers are offered support and information. Calls are free, confidential and anonymous. The helpline is open from 5pm - midnight, Sat, Sun, Mon and Tues, every week of the year. London callers may also call 0808 802 5858.  

CRUSE Bereavement Care: Helpline: 0844 477 9400; email: helpline@cruse.org.uk

Depression UK

A national mutual support group for people suffering from depression. Email: info@depressionuk.org

Mind: Infoline: 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri 9am - 6pm)

Provides information in a range of topics including types of mental distress, where to get help and advocacy. They are able to provide details of help and support for people in their own area. Email: info@mind.org.uk

National Debtline: Tel: 0808 808 4000

Free confidential and independent advice on how to deal with debt problems.

SANE: SANEline: 0845 767 8000 (6pm - 11pm)

Emotional support and specialist information to anyone affected by mental illness, including families, friends and carers. SANE offers 1:1 support via helpline and email services and peer support via an online Support Forum where people share their feelings and experiences of mental illness, as well as exchanging information about treatment and support options.

StepChange Debt Charity: Freephone: 0800 138 1111

Free online support service providing anonymous and practical advice about money matters and debt.

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS): Helpline: 0300 222 5065 (9am - 9pm daily)

This leaflet was produced by the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Public Education Editorial Board.

Series Editor: Dr Philip Timms

Main Authors: Dr Alys Cole-King, Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist/Open Minds Alliance CIC with comments from Professor Stephen Platt, Dr Gil Green (STORM), Dr Chris Manning and  Martin Seager College of Medicine Mental Health Advisory Board and  Dr Philip Timms, with contributions from RCGP/RCPsych Mental Health Forum.

This leaflet reflects the best available evidence at the time of writing.

Published: Jan 2016

Review due: Jan 2019

© Royal College of Psychiatrists