Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of suicidal ideation is an important part of getting help for yourself or your loved one. At Rio Vista Behavioral Health in El Paso, Texas, we’re proud to be a source of information and comprehensive care for adolescents and adults who have been struggling with suicidal ideation.
Learn about suicidal ideation
Suicidal ideation is the clinical term for having thoughts of ending one’s own life. This term can be used to describe a broad range of thoughts, from momentary consideration of suicide to a detailed plan.
For some people, suicidal ideation is a symptom of a mental health disorder. For example, people who struggle with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and certain other forms of mental illness may be at increased risk for suicidal thoughts.
In other cases, suicidal ideation may be prompted by a temporary period of overwhelming stress, or it may occur in the immediate aftermath of a significant loss or other traumatic experience.
Regardless of what causes a person to experience suicidal ideation, it’s important to know that treatment can help.
If suicidal thoughts are related to a mental health disorder, receiving effective professional care for that disorder can alleviate suicidal ideation. If the problem is related to difficulties managing stress or getting through an emotionally challenging time, therapy can also be extremely beneficial.
Whether or not suicidal ideation is connected to a mental health disorder, please know that you are not alone, and that help is available.
Statistics about suicidal ideation
The term “suicidal ideation” refers to thoughts, so it is impossible to conclusively document the prevalence of this problem. However, statistics reported by The Jason Foundation, Inc. (JFI) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) can provide insights into how many adolescents and adults may struggle with suicidal ideation:
- In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died as a result of suicide.
- Experts estimate that more than 1,300,000 Americans attempted to end their own lives in 2017.
- In 2015, more than 500,000 U.S. hospital visits were related to intentionally self-inflicted injuries.
- Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults, ages 10–24.
- Every day in the United States, more than 3,000 high school students attempt suicide.
Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation
As noted above, thoughts of suicide may or may not be related to a mental health disorder. However, even in cases where mental illness is present, a person’s risk for suicidal ideation may be influenced by multiple internal and external factors, such as the following:
- Age (in the United States, suicide rates are highest among adults in the 45-65 age range)
- Gender (experts estimate that suicidal thoughts are more common among girls and women than among boys and men)
- Family history of mental illness
- Personal history of certain forms of mental illness
- Personal history of substance abuse and chemical dependency
- Personal history of trauma
- Childhood adversity, including abuse and neglect
- Poor stress management skills
- Insufficient personal support network
Symptoms of suicidal ideation
Suicidal ideation is an intensely personal experience. This can make it very difficult for even close friends or family members to realize that someone they care about has been having thoughts of suicide. However, in most cases, certain signs and symptoms exist. The following are among the more common indicators that a person may be thinking about suicide:
- Giving away items of great personal value
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Frequently discussing death or dying
- Expressing feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, or hopelessness
- Neglecting one’s grooming or personal hygiene
- Unexplained crying or outbursts of anger
- Ending involvement in hobbies or other activities that were previously of great importance
- Behaving in an uncharacteristically reckless or dangerous manner
- Changes in sleep pattern, including hypersomnia and insomnia
- Dramatic changes in appetite, with resultant weight gain or loss
- Altered energy levels, including increased vitality and persistent fatigue
- Inability to concentrate or focus
- Pervasive thoughts of death and dying
- Persistent sense of fear or dread
- Anhedonia (being unable to experience pleasure)
- Low self-esteem and poor self-worth
- Dramatic mood swings
Effects of suicidal ideation
The greatest danger among people who experience suicidal ideation is the risk that they may act on these thoughts and attempt to end their own lives. In addition to this tragic outcome, untreated suicidal ideation can also cause a variety of other negative effects, including the following:
- Strained or ruined relationships with family, friends, or colleagues
- Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms
- Substance abuse and chemical dependency
- Substandard performance in school or at work
- Academic failure
- Job loss and unemployment
- Pervasive sense of hopelessness and helplessness
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Self-injury or self-harm
- Permanent physical harm or cognitive damage
The outcomes listed above can result from untreated suicidal ideation. When you get effective professional care for your thoughts of suicide, you can significantly reduce your risk for these and other negative effects. While you receive care, you can also begin to heal from any damage that you have already incurred. With the right type and level of professional help, you can overcome the compulsion to end your own life and resume your pursuit of a healthier and more satisfying future.
Common co-occurring disorders among people who engage in suicidal ideation
It is important to remember that suicidal thoughts are not necessarily symptoms of a mental health disorder. However, many people who struggle with suicidal ideation may also struggle with mental illness. The following mental health challenges are associated with increased risk for thoughts of suicide:
- Schizoaffective disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Depressive disorders
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Anxiety disorders