Suicidal ideation refers to an overwhelming preoccupation with ending one’s own life. These ideations can range in severity from fleeting considerations to detailed plans. These thoughts are pervasive and so intrusive that they can cause dysfunction in a person’s ability to function appropriately on a daily basis. With proper treatment and support, individuals can find relief from their symptoms and get back to living a life they enjoy.
When individuals suffer from suicidal ideation, they do not normally have true intent to act on these thoughts, but the ideations can become so intense that these people eventually feel that the only way to escape from the thoughts is to act on them.
Estimates show that in the United States 94 completed suicides occur each day. Additionally, research has shown that approximately one person makes a suicide attempt every 38 seconds. Men are about four times more likely than women to complete the act of suicide, yet women are believed to experience more prolonged periods of suicidal ideation.
Causes and Risk Factors of Suicidal Ideation
The causes and risk factors for the development of suicidal ideation vary from person to person but its onset, in general, is believed to be the result of a combination of genetic, physical, and environmental factors, as described in the following:
Genetic: One’s susceptibility to developing suicidal ideation is believed by many professionals in the field to have a genetic component, as the presence of such ideations is often an indication that someone is suffering from a mental illness and mental illnesses are widely known to run in families.
Physical: Mental health disorders are believed to result from chemical imbalances in the brain, most specifically decreased levels of serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation. Because suicidal ideation is often symptomatic of mental illnesses, these chemical imbalances are believed to enhance a person’s susceptibility to suffering from such ideations.
Environmental: Many environmental factors can lead a person to begin having suicidal ideations. When individuals are brought up in unhealthy home environments, they are at a high risk of developing maladaptive emotions, thoughts, and behavior patterns because they are not shown how, or given the opportunity to appropriately express their emotional pain. Additionally, suffering from traumatic events, abuse, and/or neglect can lead a person to develop thoughts of wanting to end his or her life.
- Family history of mental illness
- Personal history of mental illness
- Knowing people who have completed the act of suicide
- Losing a family member or loved one
- Being subjected to physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse
- Witnessing violence
- Experiencing a significant trauma
Signs and Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation
The signs and symptoms that may indicate that someone is struggling with suicidal ideation will vary from person to person. Factors such as a person’s age, the support system a person has, the length of time that the person has been experiencing the thoughts, and the person’s individual temperament can all play a role in the type of symptoms displayed by someone who is experiencing suicidal ideation. The following are various examples of signs that someone may exhibit when dealing with suicidal ideation:
- Reckless behaviors
- Impulsive behaviors
- Social isolation
- No longer participating in previously enjoyed activities
- Talking or writing about death
- Dramatic shifts in temperament
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Changes in eating patterns
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Panic attacks
- Lacking the ability to concentrate
- Memory impairment
- Ruminating, pervasive thoughts about death and dying
- Inability to focus on specific tasks
- Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness
- Increased depression
- Increased anxiety
- Mood swings
- Increased irritability
Effects of Suicidal Ideation
The longer that individuals experience chronic, overwhelming suicidal ideation, the higher the risk becomes that they will act on those thoughts and begin making attempts at suicide. Depending on the means by which people make these attempts, the follow physical effects can occur:
- Broken bones
- Excessive blood loss
- Organ failure
- Brain damage
- Scars from participating in self-harming behaviors
The most tragic effect of suicidal ideation is the successful completion of the act of suicide.
The presence of suicidal ideation is often an indicator of the presence of a mental illness. The following are some of the disorders that are often associated with suicidal ideation:
- Depressive disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Panic disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Eating disorders
- Schizoaffective disorder