The 3-Day Rule and Suicide

Print Friendly

Creative Commons photo by Eliazar Parra Cardenas

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

Creative Commons photo by electrictuesday

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?

Creative Commons photo by Alan L

Creative Commons photo by Alan L

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.

What Next?

Creative Commons photo by Nana B. Agyei

Creative Commons photo by Nana B. Agyei

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.

You might need to uncover reasons for living. Tapping into hope and rediscovering pleasure can also help.

More than anything, talking back to suicidal thoughts and learning to cope with them can fortify you in your fight against suicidal forces.

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

Related Posts

23 Reader Comments

Trackback URL Comments RSS Feed

  1. christy says:

    I feel like reading this makes sense but..it’s when those 3-day periods comes often. you may have reason to start all over again..which means you did get a blink of hope; but is it ever enough? It just continues in circles.That hello pain and nobody to turn to cycle..it gets old very fast and even if not suicidal can wear you down to a point where you just don’t care anymore. At least that is my experience of it.

  2. luc says:

    3 Days? I’ve been suicidal for at least 8 years. You’re not talking about people who want to commit suicide, you’re talking about people who don’t know how to deal with specific emotions. For permanently suicidal people, it’s not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when”.

  3. Jess says:

    Hey guys, I’m Jessica, I’m 19, and I want to help, I know I’m young and may not understand everything you as an individual are going through but I want to listen and help in any way I can, even if it’s just being there for you or your friend in dark times. I don’t judge, I won’t belittle what you’re going through, because it’s all real to you and I understand that.
    A little about me, I come from an abusive family, I’ve been in many relationships, some were good, one was physically abusive and one was emotionally and mentally abusive. Ive been engaged, happy, hopeful, and then one day he up and left me in the middle of Indiana 2,300 miles away from my family and went home to his mom. I’ve been sexually assaulted, had my best friend commit suicide, and just recently overcame a kind of anorexia/bulimia. Now I don’t say all this to get your sympathy, maybe I can grab the attention of a fellow sufferer and help. Anyway, please, if you need support or a listening ear, email wesurvivetolive@gmail.com
    I’d love to hear from you,
    Jessie

  4. celia says:

    I’ve thought about suicide this year over my fiancé leaving me and getting married to another woman. But I have had friends to help me with it and I recently reconnected with my other ex boyfriend who is much sweeter to me and we are going to start dating again so I do feel that things are looking up.

  5. Chris says:

    I am 37 years old and have dealt with suicidal thought since I was fourteen and over the last twenty plus years it seems like its only gotten worse and worse and it feels like it will only continue to get worse, everyone always says cheer up things will get better you’ll see, but things never get better they either stay the same or just get worse n worse, all i’ve ever wanted was JUST to be happy but more n more it looks like that’s never gonna happen and i’m destined to keep suffering, my thoughts run so deep at times that there’s nothing that can make them go away but more pain, pain has been the one constant thing in my life, if anyone spent a day inside my head they’d all wonder how I’ve survived thus far and yes there are good times and good memories but the bad times and horrible memories of my past outweigh the good, and i’ve thought long and hard about the effects my death would have on those around me and that’s probably the only reason i’m still alive, I am already looked at as the crazy loser living in a hole, I don’t wanna be remembered as the crazy loser who offed himself, nobody understands what its like to have to live with the thoughts I have on a daily basis, I look around me and I see nearly everyone getting everything they want in life and more and they still walk around like the world owes them more, while me I work my ass off and just keep slipping lower and lower down the ladder of despair, and it feels like every time i’m starting to get happy some higher power sees me and says “Chris is happy, oh no we cant have that” and poof just like that the depression returns and I keep everything bottled up inside because if I let out my feelings everyone’s gonna look at me like he’s crazy and we don’t need him around us, that’s probably why half of my friends and even family members don’t talk to me and feel that they’re better off without me in their lives and I don’t blame them they’re right, this has been a lifelong struggle to keep moving forward when something’s always there to pull me backwards, no matter how hard I fight and pull I still end up back in my dark place surrounded by hatred and the voices who want me to end it all, I don’t wanna die but at the same time I don’t wanna live with this mental anguish anymore either, there’s so much that goes on inside my head that no one knows about and never will no about. It just gets harder and harder to keep trying win when all you know is LOSING.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Chris,

      I am sorry you are hurting so badly, and for so long. I am wondering if you’re receiving professional help. It might help you, at least, to call a hotline or seek some other kind of help. For starters, please check out the resources on this site, at http://www.speakingofsuicide.com/resources/#immediatehelp.

      Also, you might find this post helpful, if you haven’t read it already: Are You Thinking of Killing Yourself?

    • Anonymous says:

      I thought I was alone I’m 27 and feel the same way I tried twice to kill myself failed every time just like I failed everything else I’m sick of life why do the good people suffer while the wicked enjoy life

    • Miki M says:

      I feel like I just read my own writing. I know that place in the head, there’s no way out and it’s so hard to even imagine you ever smiled in your life. I have isolated myself from my children and I’m now in the midst of rewriting my Living Will so they can’t bring me back. I don’t want to die either but the mental pain is now gaining the upper hand after a battle of 22 years.

  6. Canam Girl says:

    Here is what I wrote sitting in my Psychiatrists office the day before I attempted suicide:
    What Happens
    What happens when you run out of tools, run out of coping skills, run out of ways to keep from falling into the black hole, the darkness, then what, where do you turn, who do you turn to? I believe there will be that time, I will have used up all my knowledge, my skills, everything that helped me from sinking into the dark abyss. We know that the natural tendency is to isolate, to withdraw, to shut down, what happens then? Will I have enough reserve to reach out, or will that be used up, and I quit, I give up the battle, finally, to lose the war. Will it have been because I didn’t try, I don’t believe so, I believe that I have tried. I have done everything that I know to win the war, to defeat the enemy. What if my tool box is empty, no more instruments to use. Will that black hole suck me down and swallow me up? We need to be able to replenish that tool box, to add to it so you never run out of ways and means to live, to survive. Where do those tools come from, how do we purchase them? There needs to be more resources for us out there: yes there are many but what happens if the appointments are unavailable, the distress line not equipped to deal with the issue at hand, where do we turn? Do we lose? I don’t want to lose, but maybe I have no choice. I want a choice, I have reached out for those choices but they don’t respond. I feel alone, all alone, nowhere to turn, I feel lost, it feels hopeless, I am finished, it is over.

    Yes I did survive, but it is so difficult even today, every day, minute, second, how does one get through the pain, turmoil and hurt?

  7. … what if no amount of reaching out brings lasting relief?

    when I first contemplated suicide, I thought about it for days on end. I reached out. I asked for help. I was told by a few providers that this would be a life-long struggle. I fought that assessment for SO long…
    I take the strong urges moment by moment. I think it through, I contemplate the impact of my death on everyone and everything in my life. I reach out, I’ve put myself inpatient more than once to prevent acting on taking my life. but it’s still always there. The docs were right all those years ago: I’m hopeless. I will have to live with this forever. One went so far as to assert he was sure I was one of those people who would die by suicide.

    It’s no longer a 3-day wait for me, because the intense urge to die doesn’t dissipate in three days. Now it’s a week or more… And it always cycles back around. I get that life is not always awful (in fact, I have many wonderful moments that bring a lot of joy), but when it is, it’s unbearable. And nothing truely helps in a lasting way. I react poorly to most psychotropic meds (they actually increase my impulsivity), behavioral therapies all seem really triggering (I’ve faithfully attempted DBT over 7 distinct times, each time landing inpatient multiple times during each round of DBT because of severe, fast decompensation). The only thing I’ve found helps at all (intensive, residential trauma treatment with a heavy individual therapy component) is financially and practically out of reach (I actually don;t even think a program like that even exists). I don’t really know if it could make a meaningful impact in the long-run anyway though, since I’ve only ever had short-term access to intensive trauma treamtent.

    So, what then? Is there research out there (or treatment) that effectively mitigates chronic suicidal ideation? DBT is great in theory, but it’s not something that works for me. Meds also make things worse. Supportive therapy and trauma therapy is good, but it wears out the providers really fast. ECT is not something I would ever consider (the potential side-effects do not in any way out-weigh the potential benefits for me)…

    I had a conversation with my mom today about suicide. I tried to explain that I’m not so much intent on killing myself, but if I wound up dead, I would be fine with that. The prospect of living potentially 60+ more years cycling through horribly intense depression is very scary. It’s like knowing you have to go through intnesive chemo and radiation for cancer multiple times every year for the rest of your life, with no prospects at ever truely recovering from the cancer. Sure there are good times in between the bouts, but you are guaranteed to feel like crud several times every year, forever… and it’s not just “eh, I feel pretty crappy this week. I might stay home from work.” it’s more like “omg, even existing physically hurts, why does the air make my skin feel like it’s searing off and all my cells are exploding one by one while all my muscles charlie-horse at once?!” (and it all lasts for several weeks to months at the same intensity)…

    While I would work my butt off trying to get help for someone if they were suicidal, I would also understand if they just didn’t want the intervention. It’s all well and good to say suicidal crisis is fleeting and hope is possible. It may well be for a lot of people, but there are also people for whom it’s very much a permanent thing. The professional side of me is on-board with suicide prevention, but the personal side of me totally understands the decision. It’s not automatiacally illogical, impulsive, or irrational…

    sorry. I’m not totally sure I know what I want to convey with all this, or why I am bothering to respond here. sorry…

    • jhon franck says:

      I feel that as uncomfortable as it might feel, “it’s not automatically illogical, impulsive, or irrational… In the case of my loved one, it was not illogical or impulsive, but it was shortsighted as is the nature of depression’s pain. J.

  8. Anonymous says:

    It’s why keeping firearms secured is so important because they can be used so quickly impulsively and effectively. PLEASE make sure no one can have access to your firearms; the devastation left behind from not doing this is unspeakably horrible and unending.

  9. Rethink says:

    I wanted to simply mention this is a decent article. I think this one might offer some of the better advice I have seen on this site. Impulse decisions can be rough. I do think though there are some very rational processes that can go on from someone who wants to end things. Sometimes, what it would take to make life worthwhile is so far out of reach, and the environment surrounding environment is doing nothing to help. This isn’t a bad approach. I just think many of these articles are putting too much on the person already suffering already overburdened and not enough on those who claim they want to help prevent the attempt. This article is a good start.

    • jhon franck says:

      I don’t think the article does too much on the side they focus on, but I am in agreement, those who claim to want to help fail miserably the suffering individual. J.

  10. Anonymous says:

    What about a three week rule? What if somebody had been thinking of committing suicide for three weeks or more, looking for the perfect time and day? If they had planning for that long, are they then allowed to end their life?

  11. Wendy says:

    I attempted suicide in 2012. I took 2 days to write letters to certain people and on the 3rd day I overdosed. For some reason I was not allowed to leave this world but the thoughts of suicide are still present today. I have been battling suicidal thoughts since a very young age. I really don’t know if they will ever go away…

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Hi Wendy, I am sad to hear about your suicide attempt and your ongoing suicidal thoughts. This is not uncommon. Many people have “chronic” thoughts of suicide. The challenge does not lie in eliminating them, which simply may not be possible. Thoughts come without our invitation. The true challenge lies in responding to them in a way that disarms them of their power. This can include talking back to suicidal thoughts, or mindfully observing them, or taking “opposite action,” or whatever works!

      Good luck to you!

  12. Great words of wisdom! Hopefully those 3 days heal and help to bring clarity. I know it has for me.

    Thanks for writing this.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      You’re welcome, and thank YOU for the excellent writing that you did about the 3-day rule (and that I quoted above)! You described the 3-day rule very eloquently.

      It’s great that this rule has helped you, though I know it’s not great to have needed it. May you continue to get through your 3 days.

  13. Pearl Bowden says:

    Really glad to have come across this article. As a person who has dealt with suicidal thoughts/acts and self harm all of her life, I have experienced both (thoughts disappear within 3 days and not to disappear after 3 days). I have attempted suicide with one success where my heart stopped for 90 seconds and through CPR I was revived in 2002. Unfortunately my last true attempt was in February of this year but here I still am reaching the age of 40 ONLY by God’s Grace for me. This is my personal view of this life. I unfortunately still struggle with depression and thoughts of worthlessness but I now focus on my 2 sons like never before, who remind me why i choose to Iive.
    I wish I would have had information like this so easily accessible when I was 11, 13, and 14. 3 others dates that altered my life. But I finally realize that my life must have purpose. I am reminded of this any time I shared my story.
    #iamworthyofbreath

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, Pearl. I am excited to think of how many people your words will inspire.

      It is sad that you have suffered so much. May this suffering give your life meaning both in the way you reach out to others and touch them, and in the way that you can treat yourself with more compassion as you struggle with depression and thoughts of worthlessness.

      Good luck to you!

  14. Genevieve says:

    Dear Stacey,

    I know this is sort of off topic but these 3 questions do interest me.

    1) Does anyone owe anyone else his or her life?

    2) Does anyone have a duty to suffer for anyone else’s benefit (or to forestall anyone else’s prospective suffering)?

    3) Does the mere fact (i.e. imposition) of being born render each one of us a slave — to family, to community, to the species?

    It seems to me that, in the absence of answering any of the above in the affirmative, there’s nothing more selfish, and therefore more hypocritical, than stigmatizing suicide as “a selfish act.”

    Even if it is, so what? Unless the ‘collateral damage’ of killing oneself is premeditated & also irreparable (which it very rarely is), so what? ‘The world’, after all, could stand to be relieved — freely by self-selection — of as many desperately miserable people as possible; gratitude rather than scorn (or taboo-fear) being the more appropriate, more civilized response.

    Perhaps killing oneself is simply an act of self-defense against ‘involuntary self-torment’. If so, reparable collateral damage is a reasonable trade-off (risk), no?

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Genevieve, those are excellent questions. I don’t make the same conclusions you do (i.e., that the world “could stand to be relieved…of as many desperately miserable people as possible”). But I do agree with you that there are serious problems with condemning suicide as “selfish.”

      Many, perhaps most, people who seriously consider suicide feel that they are a burden to others. The suicidal person thinks, however misguidedly, that their suicide will provide relief for those who are burdened. That is hardly selfish.

      Rather than condemn suicide as selfish, we as a society could save a lot more lives by reaching out to suicidal people with compassion and understanding, not judgment.

Top