*Content warning: This article discusses suicide and self-harm.
Suicidal ideation, also known as suicidal thoughts, entails frequent and persistent thoughts of suicide that can range from fleeting and quick to overwhelming and all-consuming.
If you notice that a loved one is struggling with suicidal ideation, your first instinct will likely be to help them however you can, but you may not know exactly what to do or where to begin, and this is natural.
Suicide is an extremely sensitive topic. Therefore, you want to be well prepared to talk about it when someone you love is struggling
If you personally are struggling with suicidal thoughts, it can be tough to find the light at the end of the tunnel and your feelings may be very heavy, but you are not alone and help is available.
Suicidal Ideation: What Is It? What Symptoms Are Associated With It?
Suicidal ideation includes thinking about or even planning to commit suicide, and it can it can have different causes, including symptoms of mental health conditions like stress and feelings of being overwhelmed or hopeless.
If you, or someone you love, are struggling with suicidal ideation, you may notice certain symptoms that accompany these thoughts. Indications of suicidal ideation include:
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to take one’s own life
- Giving away treasured possessions
- Writing goodbye letters
- Talking about feelings of despair and hopelessness
- Preparing for death in some way, like by giving away or selling personal items
- Self-isolation from family, friends, and other loved ones
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in daily activities or things one used to enjoy
- Changes in appetite and eating patterns
- Over or undersleeping
- Changes in appearance such as not brushing one’s hair, teeth, etc.
- Increased or new usage of alcohol and drugs
- Becoming more impulsive
- Talking about feeling trapped or in pain
- The creation of a suicide plan
All of these symptoms may indicate that your loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts or may help you recognize this struggle in yourself.
Suicidal Ideation Risk Factors
There are certain factors that may put a person at an increased risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts or actions. These risk factors include, but are not limited to:
- Previous attempts or plans to commit suicide
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, agitation, social isolation, or loneliness
- Experiencing a very stressful life event like the loss of a loved one, military service, breakups, or financial or legal problems
- History of substance abuse issues—abusing drugs and alcohol can worsen thoughts of suicide, symptoms of depression, or recklessness and impulsiveness
- Access to firearms or other weapons in the home
- Underlying psychiatric disorders such as major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or bipolar disorder
- Family history of mental disorders, substance abuse, suicide, or violence including both physical and sexual abuse
- Health problems that may be linked to depression and suicidal ideation, such as chronic disease, chronic pain, or terminal illness
- Identifying as LGBTQ+ but living with an unsupportive family or in an otherwise hostile environment
These are only some of the most common risk factors, but there are others.
If one or several of these risk factors apply to you or your loved ones, it can be frightening to know that you or your loved one’s safety and wellbeing may be in danger—but there are a few things you can do to help them, or yourself, feel better.
Suicidal Ideation: How To Treat & What You Can Do
Suicide ideation is a symptom rooted in underlying causes. Cognitive behavior therapy, counseling, and medication can often help to cope with and reduce the incessant rumination one experiences when dealing with suicidal thinking and severe depression.
If you or your loved one is experiencing suicidal ideation, you should contact a mental health professional as soon as possible and seek help.
Once treatment begins, it is essential to adhere to the treatment plan, attend appointments, and take any medications as directed by a healthcare professional.
It’s extremely important to turn to a health care professional in order to get things more under control. The most effective treatment method for suicidal ideation is a combination of therapy and medication, especially if an underlying psychiatric disorder is diagnosed. Antidepressant medication may be recommended.
The most important thing is to make sure to reach out for support. Here at Brightside, we want to ensure you receive the necessary treatment to combat suicidal ideation by providing you with both forms of treatment right from the comfort of your own home.
Suicidal Ideation: How To Cope With Suicidal Thoughts
Whether you are personally struggling with suicidal ideation or a loved one is struggling, there are many strategies and coping methods that can help.
Dealing with suicidal thoughts can be difficult, especially if you feel like you do not have a great support system, but building a safety plan can help keep you in the right mindset.
Maybe you already have a safety plan, and if so, you should turn to it whenever you feel like you are in a spiral. If you do not have a safety plan, a mental health professional can help you come up with one.
Here are a few key points of a safety plan:
- Stay connected with others — talk with friends or family, or the suicide hotline number is available 24 hours, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-8255.
- Seek counseling — it can be in-person or online, telehealth services are widely available thanks to modern technology, and counselors are often just a message away if you feel you’re heading toward an unsafe mindset
- Keep a “suicide safe” home (remove all unsafe items, including pills, razors, blades, and guns)
- Avoid drugs, alcohol, and any other triggers that can push you into negative thoughts
- Adapt healthy lifestyle adjustments, which can include mindfulness, diet and nutrition, exercise, and sleep
- Put together a crisis box — a crisis box is essentially just a box filled with items that make you feel more optimistic about life, more comforted, or more at peace. In times of need, it can be helpful to go through these items and get a reminder of all of the reasons to stay in this life.
The Bottom Line
Suicidal ideation includes both thinking about suicide and planning suicide.
This can be a very frightening thing to struggle with or to watch a loved one struggle with. When you are dealing with suicidal ideations you may experience feelings of despair and hopelessness, loss of interest in daily activities and hobbies, or changes in your appetite or eating habits.
Certain conditions may increase your risk of suicide or suicidal behavior including underlying mental health conditions like major depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, mood disorders, substance use disorders, or personality disorder.
Drug use or family history of suicide can increase the risk of active suicidal ideation or passive suicidal ideation, and individuals who know they’re at a high risk of suicide ideation should seek mental health care at the first warning signs of suicidality to form a treatment plan
Therapy and medication is often recommended when it comes to treating suicidal ideation, and a mental health professional can help you come up with a tailored treatment or safety plan specifically for you and your needs.
No matter what, remember that you are not alone. There are many resources available if you are experiencing suicidal ideation. All you need to do is reach out.
We’re here for you and can provide all the anxiety and depression care you need. If you are ready to take that next step and seek out professional help today, you can get started by taking our free online assessment.