Suicidal ideation or having suicidal thoughts is thinking about or planning to commit suicide. Suicidal ideation can range from very brief or fleeting thoughts to more extended periods during which the individual preoccupies themselves with suicidal thoughts and planning.
Without proper medical care, suicidal thoughts can quickly escalate to intent and eventually lead to suicide attempts or death by suicide. Some factors that may lead to an escalation of suicidal ideation include:
Lack of Social Support
People who lack a supportive network of family and friends are more likely to experience worsening suicidal ideation. When someone feels like they have no one to turn to, they may see suicide as their only way out of the pain and suffering.
Mental illness leads to impaired thinking and may result in low self-esteem, hopelessness, and despair. As such, people with mental health disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to experience a drastic increase in suicidal thoughts.
Substance abuse can lead to paranoia, impulsivity, and risk-taking behavior, which can increase the likelihood of acting on suicidal thoughts. According to one study, alcohol intoxication is a common precipitating factor in most suicides and attempted suicides. Substance abuse can also aggravate symptoms of mental illness and make it difficult to cope with stressors in life.
When diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness, some people may lose hope in life and see suicide as the only way to end their suffering. This is especially true if the individual is going through a great deal of pain, has a poor prognosis, or feels like a burden to others.
Signs that Suicidal Ideations are Getting Worse
There are several warning signs that may indicate suicidal ideations are getting worse, and the individual is at a higher risk for attempting or completing suicide. These warning signs include:
- Talking about wanting to die or hurt oneself
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or being trapped
- Withdrawing from friends and activities
- An increase in alcohol or drug abuse
- Reckless behaviors
- Sudden mood swings
- Giving away prized possessions
- Writing or talking about death or suicide
- Making a plan to commit suicide
- Acquiring the means to commit suicide
- Preparing for death by writing a will
Treating Suicidal Ideations
Suicidal ideation is a potentially life-threatening condition, but with the right treatment, recovery is possible.
Seek professional help: If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s advisable to seek professional help immediately. Suicidal ideation is a serious medical emergency that requires swift medical intervention.
Practice self-care: Selfcare helps boost self-esteem, reduce stress, and promote positive thinking, all of which can help reduce suicidal thoughts. Some self-care activities include regular exercise, proper stress management, avoiding substance abuse, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy diet.
Reach out to your support system: A support network serves as a source of emotional support and practical assistance when feeling overwhelmed. This may include close friends and family, religious leaders, or mental health professionals.
Create a safety plan: A safety plan is a written document that outlines the steps to take if you’re feeling overwhelmed. This may include who to call, where to go, and what activities to do. Having a safety plan in place can help prevent a suicide attempt.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.