Many people who attempt suicide do so impulsively. Extremely impulsively.
One study of people who attempted suicide found that 48% thought of suicide for fewer than 10 minutes before making the suicide attempt.
The haste with which many people die by suicide is staggering. Had they waited a little longer, then the intense impulse to act on suicidal thoughts might have passed.
This brings me to the 3-day rule. I’ve heard about this rule anecdotally and read about it here and there on blogs and other websites. One site in particular sums it up quite well:
“For me I have a 3 day rule. With most big decisions that will affect my life, I give myself 3 days. If I still think it is the best choice for me after 3 days, then I go with it. Yes even with suicide…
“If even for one moment you feel a smidge of joy or like life is actually worth living, you have to start the 3 days again. Again time many times brings clarity.”
The author, Ali McCollum, also states, “Spoiler… death by my own hand has yet to feel like the right choice for 3 straight days.”
Keep On Keeping On
The old adage “one day at a time” holds true here. With suicidal thoughts, however, the mantra may be “one hour at a time,” or “one minute at a time.”
Even “one moment at a time” can be difficult.
If you hold off for three days, chances are you will not feel 100% intent on dying that entire time. And maybe you will even feel hope, or pleasure, or some other reason to live.
If your suicidal thoughts are so intense that even waiting 3 days seems impossible, please get help immediately. Call 911 (or, if you are outside the U.S., whatever the emergency number is in your country). Or go to an emergency room. Or call someone who will help you stay safe.
Really? Suicidal Thoughts Stop After 3 Days?
Keep in mind that I’m not talking about all suicidal thoughts. It would be foolish to say that suicidal thoughts tend to pass in 3 days. Some people think of suicide for weeks and months, even years.
What I am referring to is the profound intent to act on suicidal thoughts. If someone is on the verge of suicide, those 3 days can mean the difference between life and death.
Suicidal thoughts might persist, but the impulse to act on them can change many times over three days.
To quote the late psychologist Edwin Shneidman, one of the pioneers in suicidology:
“The acute suicidal crisis (or period of high and dangerous lethality) is an interval of relatively short duration – to be counted, typically, in hours or days, not usually in months or years. An individual is at a peak of self-destructiveness for a brief time and is either helped, cools off, or is dead.”
Naturally, my hope is that you are helped or cool off.
What If 3 Days Go By and Suicide Still Beckons?
Time does not heal all wounds, especially not quickly. The 3-day rule aside, I do not mean to imply that you should end your life if you still feel acutely suicidal after three days.
In some ways, 3 days is a long time. A lot can happen. Feelings can change. Perspective can change.
Getting a good night’s sleep during those 3 days, or talking with a friend or suicide hotline, or simply surfing the waves of moods, can weaken the suicidal impulse.
In other ways, 3 days is hardly a blip on the radar screen of an entire life. If after 3 days you still are intent on dying, please get help.
Reach out to others, whether someone you know or a stranger at hotline or online. For a list of places where you can get help anonymously, you can start here.
Even if you follow the 3-day rule and no longer feel adamantly that suicide is your only option, the suicidal thoughts might still persist or revisit.
Ultimately, to survive suicide’s assault, more is needed than waiting.
A Good Starting Place
The 3-day rule is a good place to start. Not only can it save your life, it can also show you with amazing clarity that suicidal thoughts can waver in their intensity.
Those 3 days can demonstrate that at least the strength of suicidal thoughts, if not suicidal thoughts themselves, can be temporary.
Suicidal thoughts can change, as can you, your mood, and your life.
© 2014 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved. Written for www.speakingofsuicide.com