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What Is Suicidal Ideation?

You’ve had a rough stretch the last several months, finding yourself unusually sad or agitated about things that never bothered you before. Worse, you’ve started believing you’re a burden to loved ones and friends, and thoughts of harming yourself have entered your head – or worse. This may be a case of suicidal ideation.

What Is Suicidal Ideation?

Suicidal ideations, often referred to as suicidal thoughts or ideas, is a wide-ranging term used to define a host of contemplations, desires, and preoccupations with death and suicide. But there is no widely accepted constant meaning of suicidal ideation, which results in persistent challenges for medical professionals, researchers, and educators. It’s not unusual, for instance, to see different operational definitions applied to suicidal ideation across multiple research studies. In another study, less than half of survey respondents with suicidal thoughts sought help.

What Causes It?

Suicidal ideation has many causes. Mostly, they’re the result of feelings of helplessness when you’re challenged with what looks like a devastating life situation. If you think there’s no hope for the future, you may wrongly think suicide is an option – that it’s the only light at the end of a long tunnel. But there may also be a genetic component, as suicide tends to run in families and could be influenced by family history of suicide.

Know the Risk Factors

  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Mental illness
  • Social isolation
  • Criminal or legal troubles
  • Money trouble
  • Impulsiveness or aggressiveness
  • Employment issues
  • Severe illness
  • Substance use disorder
  • Childhood abuse and neglect
  • Bullying
  • Family history
  • Relationship issues
  • Barriers to healthcare
  • Conflicts with cultural and religious beliefs about mental health and suicide
  • Stigma linked to mental illness or toward people who may seek help
  • Open access to lethal methods among those at risk (like firearms or medications)
  • Dangerous media representations of suicide

Prevention Tips

  • Get the treatment you require, often by treating an underlying trigger. You could feel embarrassed about needing treatment for mental health issues but getting help for your problem will improve your outlook on life and help ensure your safety.
  • Build a support network of people you trust and can talk to
  • Suicidal feelings are temporary, and treatment can re-instill perspective – life will improve. Take small steps; don’t act impulsively.

Suicide Facts

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, resulting in almost 46,000 deaths in 2020. Other facts to consider:

  • There’s one death by suicide every 11 minutes.
  • In 2020, an estimated 12.2 million American adults seriously considered suicide; 3.2 million made plans; 1.2 million people tried.
  • In 2020, suicide was a top 9 leading reasons of death for people 10 to 64 years old, and the second leading cause of death for people 10 to 14 and 25 to 34 years old.

How to Recognize Suicidal Thoughts in Someone

Suicide is preventable, and everyone can play a role in saving lives and building healthy, strong, and productive people, families, and communities. But prevention needs an inclusive public health approach that must begin with recognizing warning signs of suicide in yourself or someone else.

  • You or someone you interact with talks about suicide, throwing out statements like “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I weren’t alive,” or “I wish I were never born.”
  • You’ve accumulated the knowledge and means to take your own life and are actively planning your own death.
  • You’re prone to self-isolation, avoiding social interactions, and wishing to be left alone.
  • You have extreme mood swings, going from emotionally high one day to deeply downcast the next.
  • You find yourself preoccupied with death, vanishing, or violence.
  • Everyday situations make you feel trapped or hopeless about what’s happening.
  • You’ve begun using more alcohol or drugs than before.
  • There have been disruptions to regular, daily routines, including eating problems, weight gain or loss, or sleeping patterns.
  • You’re prone to risky or self-destructive behavior.
  • You freely give away your belongings or start getting affairs organized when there’s no logical reason for taking such actions.
  • You bid farewell to people as if you won’t see them again.
  • Your personality has changed in ways that are clearly different than how you were before, such as being severely agitated or anxious, mainly when you’ve experienced any of the warning signs mentioned previously.

Some of the warning signs or symptoms of suicidal ideation can be treated with therapy, antidepressants or other medicine, or ketamine therapy. If you’re thinking of harming yourself, reach out to someone who can help.

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