Having suicidal thoughts can be a scary experience, and you may not know where to turn for help. But, while it can be hard to be open and honest about suicidal ideations, it can also lead to healing.
In this article, we’ll explore this serious topic to help you better understand risk factors for suicidal ideations, signs that someone may be experiencing these thoughts, and how to seek support.
Suicidal ideations are active or passive thoughts of self-harm or ending one’s own life. Active suicidal ideation usually involves making plans to die by suicide, while someone experiencing passive suicidal ideation might wish they were gone but don’t have plans for making that happen.
Whether the thoughts are active or passive, these feelings can be overwhelming and isolating. Thankfully, those experiencing suicidal ideations don’t have to deal with these painful emotions alone; help and support are available through friends, family, and mental health experts.
Some people are at an increased risk for suicidal ideations. We’ll highlight a few of the most common risk factors in the sections below. As you read, keep in mind that a person could have multiple risk factors — not just one.
It's also important to understand that these risk factors don't guarantee someone will have suicidal thoughts, but they can increase the likelihood. Recognizing these risk factors is crucial for identifying when you or someone you know may need support.
Many personal factors and experiences over the course of a person’s life could contribute to an increased likelihood of suicidal ideations. This may include anything from childhood trauma to job loss, chronic health issues, or a history of mental health conditions (like depression). Here are a few other examples of individual risk factors:
All relationships have their ups and downs. However, hurtful or harmful experiences in relationships may contribute to suicidal ideation. These experiences can come from your relationships with anyone in your life, whether that’s a spouse, friend, family member, or acquaintance. These relationship risk factors can include any of the following:
Your local community might increase your risk of suicidal ideation. For example, if your community lacks important health care resources — especially mental health services — or it’s not affordable, physical and emotional challenges may go untreated. This lack of support can worsen distress and feelings of hopelessness, which increases the risk of suicidal thoughts. Other examples of community risk factors include:
Widespread factors that affect society can raise your chance of having suicidal ideation. For example, living in a society that stigmatizes mental health conditions can make it harder to seek help and get treatment. Other examples of societal risk factors include:
Whether you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, it’s helpful to be aware of the warning signs of suicidal ideations. While everyone’s situation is different, the sections below will explore some common behavioral, emotional, and cognitive signs that someone may be having suicidal thoughts.
The way someone acts can provide clues that they’re experiencing suicidal ideation. They might give away their favorite possessions or actively research means of suicide. You might also notice that they eat less or more than usual, or their sleep patterns have changed (like sleeping more than usual or having trouble sleeping).
Other signs may include increased alcohol or drug use or engaging in high-risk activities, like driving recklessly.
Suicidal ideation can cause all kinds of emotional changes. Some might be subtle, while others are highly noticeable. Watch for depression symptoms, such as feeling hopeless, losing interest in hobbies or other activities, or feeling frequently or constantly sad.
Having suicidal thoughts might also cause feelings of extreme guilt or a lack of interest in making any plans for the future. Other emotional signs might include severe anger, agitation, or anxiety.
Cognitive signs of suicidal ideation can be harder to notice in others. If you’re worried about a loved one, pay close attention to what they say — this can provide insight into what they might be thinking.
When someone experiences suicidal thoughts, they may suggest that things would be better off without them. They might also talk about being unable to cope with what they’re going through or wanting to give up.
During emergency situations, quick action is a must. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone: There are several emergency resources that can help. Call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline — a hotline that connects you with a trained crisis counselor you can call, text, or chat with 24/7.
In more emergent situations where someone has already been injured, contact your local emergency number (like 911 in the U.S.) and explain the situation to the operator. Understandably, these situations may be stressful or scary; however, do your best to be as clear and calm with the operator as possible and follow their instructions.
If you’re helping someone in crisis, it’s important not to leave the person alone until help arrives. Similarly, remove any items from the area that could be used for self-harm, like weapons or medications (if you can do so safely).
While suicidal thoughts can be distressing, know that healing is possible. Treatment may involve a combination of approaches, and you might need to try a few options before you find what works for you. Below are a few of the common treatment methods you may encounter when seeking support for suicidal ideations.
During psychotherapy sessions, you can talk about your thoughts of suicide in a safe and supportive environment. A therapist can help you process what you’re experiencing and build adaptive coping skills.
Psychotherapy can take different forms, but some effective types of therapy for treating suicidal ideation include:
As we touched on above, substance use is one of the risk factors for suicidal ideation. In these cases, substance use disorder treatment would be part of an overall treatment plan.
For example, someone with suicidal ideation who uses drugs might benefit from therapy. However, this approach doesn’t directly address substance use. Combining therapy with substance use disorder or addiction treatment offers a more effective way to treat suicidal ideation.
Family members can play a valuable role in suicidal ideation treatment. Family therapy and education give you the tools to help a loved one with suicidal thoughts. You can learn practical techniques for how to approach and support them as they heal.
Research shows just how effective family therapy can be: A recent meta-analysis in Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry finds that family therapy is highly effective at treating suicidal ideation in adolescents.
In some cases, medication may be part of your treatment plan alongside therapy — but only under a doctor’s direction. This combined approach ensures that a qualified mental health professional can monitor your progress and ensure the treatment plan is working well for you.
Some medications used for suicidal ideation include benzodiazepines for anxiety, antidepressants for depressive symptoms, and antipsychotics as mood stabilizers. There are also other medications and options for care, so anyone experiencing suicidal ideation should discuss the best option for them with their care team.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for mental health, and it's okay to seek help and explore different options. Your well-being matters, and there are many coping strategies that can help you navigate challenging emotions like suicidal thoughts, including:
If you feel overwhelmed or unsure of what to do, a mental health professional can guide you. The right support and guidance from a therapist can help you manage these thoughts and ease your fears.
At SonderMind, we understand how difficult it can be to embark on this journey. But know that you’re not alone — there are caring professionals ready to help. SonderMind can quickly connect you to an online or in-person therapist with the expertise to help you reach your therapeutic goals.
Having a strong and reliable support network can see you through difficult times when you’re experiencing suicidal ideation. Even as you heal, staying in touch with this network is important.
Whether you depend on family and friends or belong to a support group, you can find comfort and compassion that inspires you and encourages you to keep going.
No matter what you’re going through, always remember that you matter. Self-care gives you a way to focus on caring for yourself, which can ease stress and improve your mood.
Self-care isn’t a short-term approach to coping. It’s an ongoing strategy you can use on a daily basis. For example, you might set aside time to take a relaxing bath, read a book, visit a spa, or do other activities that help you feel refreshed and calm.
Taking care of your physical self can go a long way toward boosting your mental and emotional well-being. Healthy lifestyle choices can also make it easier to manage stress. Spend time outdoors each day, get some exercise, eat healthy foods, and get plenty of sleep.
Meditating and being mindful offer easy ways to feel calmer and less stressed. Making these techniques part of your daily routine can boost your mood and help you think with better clarity, which can help ease suicidal ideation.
If a loved one may be experiencing suicidal ideation, providing comfort and support can make a world of difference. So, how can you help?
Acknowledging that you need help is a major stride toward recovery — and you should be proud of yourself for taking that step! Whether you recognize signs of suicidal ideation in yourself or a loved one, getting started on treatment as soon as possible is important.
SonderMind is here to help you make that first step. Let us help you find the right therapist to accompany you on your journey toward healing.