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Understanding Suicidal Ideation
Learn about suicidal ideation and mental illness
Suicidal thoughts, or the unusual preoccupation with death, dying, and dying by suicide are called suicidal ideation, and while society may not choose to dwell on these thoughts, it’s important to know that most people – at some point in their lives – have felt that suicide was the only way out of a complicated situation. Some people may feel suicide is an appropriate answer as a result of a significant loss, deep depression, bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, and other seemingly-insurmountable challenges that cause a person to feel entirely overwhelmed. While many people consider suicide as a means to an end, it’s really an extremely long-term solution to a short-term challenge that can be overcome in time. Still, suicide remains in the ten most common causes for death in the United States today, representing a major and largely preventable problem for all involved. It’s been estimated that for every eleven people who attempt to die by suicide, there is one completed suicide.
It can be incredibly challenging when facing much emotional turmoil, overwhelming emotions, and insurmountable-feeling problems to understand that this too shall pass; soon this challenge will be a mere blip in the radar. People who consider death by suicide struggle with intense, deep emotional pain that often skews their perception of the challenge, making it that much harder to understand that life problems do pass and that suicide is not the answer. While it can feel insurmountable, it’s vital that those considering death by suicide and those who suspect their loved one may be considering suicide reach out to the proper organizations and people who want to prevent suicide; this can allow those considering death by suicide to learn that there are solutions – albeit not always simple – to every problem. Suicide is never the answer.
Many people who are intending to die by suicide give off signals of their intent; one of the best ways to prevent suicide is to know the signs and act upon them. You may feel silly doing so, but you may just save a life and that’s worth any potential embarrassment you may feel. Any time you feel a friend or loved one is in danger of dying by suicide, call 911 immediately – this is a medical emergency.
Suicidal ideation statistics
What’s most frustrating to those who work in suicide prevention is that suicide remains a public health crisis in spite of it being a preventable, needless, waste and one of the most tragic causes of death. Each year, one in six people die needlessly by suicide in the United States. In 2007, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, leading to the loss of nearly 35,000 lives. There is a definitive sex discrepancy for suicide, although this may be due to the fact that men often use more fatal attempts for suicide than women. That same year, suicide was the seventh leading cause for death in women and fifteenth for men. Among people ages 15 to 24, suicide ranks the third leading cause for death, marking thousands of untold, unnecessary lives lost.
Causes and Risk Factors
Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation
It’s vital to remember that suicidal thoughts and behaviors are incredibly complex and vary from person to person. Generally, it’s believed that suicide is not the result of a single risk factor; rather it is the delicate interplay of environmental, genetic, and physical risk factors that work together to increase the chances for suicidal ideation. Common symptoms a loved one or friend is considering suicide include:
Genetic: People born into families who have a history of attempted or completed suicide are at a higher risk than those without a similar genetic component. Those who have a first-degree relative, a parent or sibling, who have attempted suicide, struggle with mental illness, or are addicted to drugs or alcohol are at a higher risk than others without a similar history. It’s worth noting that not all those with a family history will go on to develop suicidal ideation and those who do attempt suicidal behaviors may not always have a genetic component.
Physical: Research has indicated that the risk for suicide increases as the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin decreases.
Environmental: A childhood spent in a home in which violence – self-directed or directed at the children or spouse – increases the risk for suicide. In addition, teens who have friends, family, and other important figures who are suicidal increase the risks for suicidal behaviors.
- Access to firearms, notably if they are in the house
- Prior history of suicide attempts
- Diagnosis of impulse control disorders
- History of or present child physical, verbal, and sexual abuse
- Being male
- Being between the ages of 15 and 24
- Teen pregnancy or STI
- Interpersonal conflicts between family members
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation
One of the best ways to successfully prevent suicide is to be aware of the warning signs. If at any time, anyone you know is exhibiting suicidal behaviors, take this seriously as a medical emergency. Intervention can help you save a life – no matter how silly it may make you feel. Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation may include:
- Increased drug or alcohol abuse
- Increased amount of time spent alone
- Violent, rebellious, reckless behaviors
- Running away from home
- Saying goodbye to loved ones
- Saying things like, “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead”
- Decline in work or academic performance
- Withdrawing from once-pleasurable activities
- Sudden, extreme personality changes
- Seeking out lethal means
- Getting affairs in order – making a will, giving away treasured possessions
- Forming a plan for the suicide
- Past history of suicide attempts
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Changes in eating patterns causing weight loss or gain
- Vague somatic symptoms
- Neglecting personal appearance
- Difficulty concentrating
- Problems with short-term memory
- Preoccupation with death, dying, or violence
- Depression, despair, hopelessness
- Depression followed by a period of intense relief
- Delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, psychosis
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Loss of ability to feel pleasure
Effects of suicidal ideation
Suicide attempts and behaviors can leave those closest to the person struggling to find answers. If you’re feeling hopeless about the future and believe suicide is the only way to end your pain, call 911 immediately.
Effects of suicide may include:
- Damage to vital organs
- Brain death
Effects on Survivors
Effects on Suicide Survivors
The people suicide leaves behind, those left to grieve the suicide of a loved one are called “suicide survivors.” There are nearly 35,000 suicides each year in the United States and it’s estimated that for every suicide, at least 6 suicide survivors are left behind. Experiencing a loss by suicide can be shocking, painful, unexpected, and can severely impact the grieving process.
Suicide survivors may experience:
- Feeling responsible for not preventing the suicide
- Feeling rejected or abandoned by their loved ones
- Relief (if loved one was suffering)
- Profound sadness
- Emotional shock
- Grief (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders
Many adults, children, and teens with suicidal thoughts are struggling with co-occurring mental health conditions. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, over 90% of people who die by suicide meet the criteria for a co-occurring, comorbid mental illness, such as:
- Depressive disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Substance abuse disorders
- Personality disorders
- Anxiety disorders