Suicidal Ideation Signs and Symptoms

Are you concerned you or a loved one may be struggling with suicidal ideations?  If you’ve noticed any of the below warning signs or symptoms, it may be time to reach out for professional help.

Understanding Suicidal Ideations

Learn about suicidal ideations

Suicidal ideation is characterized by the presence of chronic and obsessive thoughts about how a person would end his or her own life. The severity of these thoughts can range in severity from fleeting considerations to developing detailed plans to developing detailed plans with the intent to follow through. While the terms are sometimes wrongly used interchangeably, it is important to note that suicidal ideation is not the same as suicidal behavior. When someone is experiencing suicidal ideation, they are forming or entertaining ideas, not actually participating in the act itself. While suicidal ideation does not refer to the actual act of committing suicide, it must be taken seriously because the line between thought and action can be crossed at any time.


Suicidal ideation statistics

In the United States alone, it is estimated that 94 suicides are completed every day. Additionally, researchers have stated that one person attempts suicide every 38 seconds. Males are said to be approximately four times more likely than females to complete the act of suicide, but females are more likely to experience chronic suicidal ideation. It has been hypothesized that this is due to the fact that males tend to act on their initial thoughts instead of suffering from prolonged ideation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has further broken down the statistics of suicide based on age groups, as stated in the following:

  • It is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24
  • It is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 25 and 34
  • It is the fourth leading cause of death for people between the ages of 35 and 54
  • It is the eighth leading cause of death for people between the ages of 55 and 64

Furthermore, according to the American Association of Suicidology, there is an estimated one suicide every 97 minutes for persons between the ages of 65 and 85. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that the highest suicide rate occurs in individuals between the ages of 45 and 64 and the second highest rate occurs in individuals aged 85 and older.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideations

The causes and risk factors that can lead to the onset of suicidal ideation are believed to be a combination of genetic, physical, and environmental components working together, as described in the following:

Genetic: It is believed by many professionals in the field that genetics play a large role in determining whether or not a person will be susceptible to developing suicidal ideation. This is due to the fact that having a preoccupation with suicide is typically a sign of the presence of a mental illness, and mental illnesses are known to run in families. Studies conducted at Harvard University showed that more than 50% of people who had parents that were suffering from depression also developed symptoms of the condition, including suicidal ideation, before reaching the age of 20.

Physical: Chemical imbalances in the brain are believed to contribute to the development of mental illnesses like depressive disorders and bipolar disorder, both of which have a strong tendency to result in suicidal ideation. Decreased levels of serotonin is the most commonly noted chemical imbalance that is believed to lead to the onset of suicidal ideation.

Environmental: There are a wide variety of environmental factors that can lead a person to begin suffering from suicidal ideation. Being subjected to unhealthy living environments can place individuals at a higher risk of developing maladaptive mental and emotional thoughts and behavior patterns due to the inability to control their own emotional pain and/or physical struggles. Additionally, experiencing trauma or other life stressors over which a person has no control can result in the onset of suicidal ideation as the person develops a desire to have something that he or she can have power over.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of depression
  • Family history of other mental illnesses
  • Personal history of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or other type of mental illness
  • Family history of completed acts of suicide
  • Family history of violence
  • Suffering from physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse and neglect
  • Experiencing significant trauma
  • Loss of a family member or loved one
  • Substance abuse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideations

The signs and symptoms that are present in a person who is suffering from suicidal ideation will vary amongst each individual depending on factors such as the age of the person, the length of time in which the person has been experiencing the ideation, the support system or lack of a support system that the person has, and the person’s unique temperament. It is important to be aware of the symptoms as intervention and help increases the chances of saving an individual from attempting suicide. Some of the most common symptoms that indicate that a person is suffering from suicidal ideation can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Dramatic changes in one’s mood and behavior
  • Acting reckless and not caring about the consequences that may result from participating in dangerous behaviors
  • Talking or writing about death
  • No longer participating in things that one used to enjoy
  • Becoming isolated from family and friends
  • Beginning to give away personal possessions
  • Participating is self-harming behaviors
  • Verbally threatening to commit suicide or otherwise hurt oneself
  • Substance abuse and addiction

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in sleeping patterns – sleeping too much or not being able to fall or stay asleep
  • Changes in eating patterns – possibly resulting in weight gain or weight loss
  • Panic attacks
  • Noticeable changes in one’s physical appearance / no longer caring how one looks
  • Suffering from an inability to experience any type of physical pleasure

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Obsessing over thoughts of death
  • Problems being able to concentrate
  • Memory problems
  • Having difficulty focusing on specific tasks, including occupational responsibilities

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Severe anxiety
  • Feeling “trapped” and as though there is no purpose to life
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Consistently increasing depression
  • Mood swings
  • Increased irritability and agitation


Effects of suicidal ideations

The longer that a person suffers from chronic suicidal ideation, the risk that they will begin to act upon those behaviors increases. Attempting suicide can lead to significant health problems, depending on the means by which the person attempts the act. Some of these health problems can include:

  • Failure of a specific organ
  • Broken bones
  • Paralysis
  • Total organ failure
  • Falling into a coma
  • Excessive blood loss
  • Brain damage

The most glaringly negative effect that suicidal ideation can have on a person is his or her successfully completing the act of suicide.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideations and co-occurring disorders

Suicidal ideation is typically a symptom of a mental illness, so when a person is suffering from suicidal ideation, it is likely that he or she is suffering from another type of mental health disorder as well. The most common disorders that have been known to elicit suicidal ideation can include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Substance abuse disorders

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