Understanding Suicidal Ideation
Learn About Suicidal Ideation
Suicidal ideations are thoughts about or an unusual preoccupation with suicide that can range from fleeting thoughts to laid-out, detailed plans. However, these do not always end in the final act of killing oneself. While the majority of individuals with suicidal thoughts do not carry through with them, some may make suicide attempts. Sometimes suicidal thoughts are specifically designed to fail or be discovered, while others are carefully planned to succeed. Suicide is the act of purposely ending one’s own life and, as such, it is a topic that should not be taken lightly.
Not everyone who is having thoughts of suicide actually wants to die; they just want their physical and emotional pain to stop. These individuals view suicide as a last resort attempt to end the severe emotional pain that is causing significant distress in their lives. Due to the severe distress they are experiencing, individuals who are thinking about suicide see no other way to end their suffering. Additionally, oftentimes people who are entertaining the idea of suicide do not ask for help, but that does not mean that they do not need help.
If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, make a promise to yourself that you will not do anything drastic. Avoid using drugs or alcohol because these substances will only increase feelings of depression and suicide. Do not keep suicidal feelings to yourself. Please tell a family member, trusted loved one, a friend, or a member of your spiritual community so that they can assist you in getting help.
The World Health Organization estimates that about 1 million people a year die by suicide. In 2001, over 30,000 people living in the United States died by suicide. Suicide continues to be within the top 10 leading causes of death in individuals between the ages of 10 and 64 years of age. In 2002, it was estimated that over 130,000 individuals were admitted to hospitals in the United States following suicide attempts. Ethically, the highest rates of suicide in the US occur in non-Hispanic whites and Native Americans. The lowest rates are non-Hispanic blacks, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics.
Suicidal Ideation and Co-Occurring Disorders
Many individuals who are experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings are most often struggling with additional mental health conditions. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, over 90% of individuals who commit suicide have another co-occurring mental illness. The most common co-occurring disorders include:
- Depressive disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Personality disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Substance abuse disorders
Causes and Risk Factors
Causes and Risk Factors for Suicidal Ideation
It’s generally believed that the causes for suicidal thoughts are the result of a number of different factors working together. The most common causes are thought to be:
Genetic: Many of the mental illnesses that cause the development of suicidal feelings, such as depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD and OCD, have a genetic component. Those that have first-degree relatives who have struggled with suicidal behaviors or thoughts are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts. Additionally, the presence of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or substance abuse can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Brain Chemistry: Many mental illnesses cause decreased levels of dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that plays a role in the development of pleasurable feelings, and this can cause individuals to feel depressed and empty. These individuals may experience reduced sensations of pleasure, leading to the development of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Individuals who have a terminal diagnosis or are living with chronic pain are at increased risk for suicide. Sleep deprivation can also be linked to causing the development of suicidal thoughts.
Environmental: Suicidal thoughts may be the result of overwhelming life events that an individual is simple not able to cope with appropriately. Some of these life events can include losses, stressful situations, and tremendous emotional pain. In individuals who are otherwise healthy, sudden and unexpected and usually negative life changes can cause suicidal ideation. Individuals who have a history of suicide threats or abuse are also at a higher risk for suicide in the future.
Psychological: Individuals who struggle with undiagnosed mental illnesses may come to feel hopeless and helpless as a result of their inability to control their symptoms. Due to the unpleasantness of these symptoms, individuals may come to believe that suicide is that only way to get relief. Additionally, in some cases suicidal ideations can be the result of certain medications that are used to treat a variety of conditions.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation
There are a wide range of signs and symptoms that individuals who are contemplating suicide may display. The severity of these thoughts will depend upon the severity of symptoms, presence or absence of an active support system, and other factors. Most people who are considering suicide give off warning symptoms of their intentions which should never be ignored. Symptoms of suicidal ideation may include the following:
- Talking about having no reason to live
- Forming a plan for the suicide attempt
- Wanting to be left alone
- Violent or rebellious behaviors
- Running away
- Difficulty concentrating
- Vague somatic physical symptoms
- Decline in work or scholastic performance
- Withdrawing from once-pleasurable feelings
- Sudden and extreme personality changes
- No hope for the future
- The belief that nothing will get better
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Seeking out lethal means to end their life
- Preoccupation with death or dying
- Getting affairs in order – making a will, giving away treasured possessions
- Saying goodbye to loved ones
- Acting recklessly
- Previous suicide attempts
- Psycho-motor agitation
- Dramatic mood swings
- Sudden change to extreme happiness
- Talking about wanting to die
- Sudden sense of calm
- Increased usage of alcohol or drugs
- Worsening of emotional health
- Neglecting personal appearance
- Panic attacks
- Extreme remorse
Effects of Suicidal Attempts
There are many effects that result from suicide attempts. If you’re feeling hopeless and that suicide is the only answer, the most important thing you can do is to call 911 immediately. Effects of suicide may include:
- Damage to vital organs
- Brain death
Effects of Suicide Survivors
A suicide survivor is a family member or friend of a person who has died from suicide. There are currently over 32,000 suicides annually in the United States and it is estimated that for every suicide there are at least 6 survivors. Approximately 5 million Americans became survivors of suicide in the past 25 years. Experiencing the loss of a loved one can be shocking, painful, and unexpected. Some of the common effects suicide survivors experience include:
- Deep sadness
- Grief (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual)
- Feeling responsible for not preventing the suicide
- Feeling rejected or abandoned by their loved ones
- Relief (if your loved one was suffering)
- Development of PTSD