Causes, Signs, & Effects of Suicidal Ideation

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Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

An individual who struggles with suicidal tendencies and thoughts about ending his or her life is engaging in suicidal ideation. This is a serious and dangerous problem that can have life-altering repercussions. The problem may vary in severity and frequency, and may range from having general thoughts about killing oneself through developing a detailed plan for ending one’s own life. Individuals who show signs of suicidal ideation should be taken seriously and should receive immediate professional help to prevent dangerous incidents brought about by suicide attempts. Suicidal ideation is not a mental health diagnosis, but it may be a symptom of one or more treatable mental health conditions.

In most cases, suicidal ideation develops from many underlying causes and contributing factors. To help address this condition directly, the cause and risk factors leading to suicidal thoughts should be addressed. An individual who receives immediate help and support for the root cause of the suicidal ideation has the opportunity to recover and lead a better life.


Suicidal ideation statistics

Because suicidal ideation not often documented unless an individual shows obvious outward signs and symptoms, it is difficult to determine how many people are affected with this condition. Statistics by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reveal that suicide is the third-leading cause of death among individuals ages 34 and below. According to the American Society for Suicide Prevention, during an average year more than 42,000 Americans die by suicide, and more than one million others attempt to kill themselves.

Causes & Risk Factors

Learn what is known about the causes of suicidal ideation

Genetic and environmental influences have been identified as contributing factors for the development of suicidal ideation.

Genetic: Heredity and genetics have an influence on an individual’s mental health and thus his or her risk of engaging in suicidal ideation, as suicidal ideation is often linked to heritable mental health disorders.

Environmental: Environmental influences may also be contributing factors for the development of suicidal ideation. Stress and trauma are among the most common factors. Other possible causes may include abuse, accidents, bullying, injuries, and being close to someone who also committed suicide. Suicidal ideation may occur when a person is experiencing limited support, is exhausted, or feels there is no better solution.

Risk Factors:

  • A history of trauma, stress, violence, and/or being a victim of bullying
  • Abuse and abandonment during childhood
  • Being close to or knowing someone who has committed suicide
  • A personal history of mental health disorders
  • Family history of mental health disorders

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

Sadly, in many cases, suicidal ideation is not fully noticed and treated until the individual has attempted suicide. There are, however, warning signs and symptoms to look for:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Sudden or drastic isolation from friends, family, or colleagues
  • Avoiding daily and regular activities
  • Self-mutilation and self-harm
  • Giving personal belongings to other people
  • A strong feeling of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Talking about death and suicide

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in weight or diet routine
  • Inability to think rationally or to concentrate
  • Erratic sleeping patterns, often lack of sleep
  • Having an obsession about death
  • Relentless thoughts about death or escaping

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Severe depression
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Feeling anxious and stressed most the time
  • A strong feeling of worthlessness and shame
  • One warning sign that an individual has decided to take his or her own life is a sudden calm in his or her nature after prolonged sadness or distress


Effects of suicidal ideation

Individuals with suicidal ideation should be given immediate help. If not properly addressed, suicidal ideation can lead to injuries, death, and other outcomes, including the following:

  • Poor job or school performance
  • Loss of job and loss of income
  • Conflicts with personal relationships
  • Conflicts with family and friends
  • Comatose state
  • Brain and nerve damage
  • Paralysis
  • Scars and deep cut wounds
  • Organ damage or organ failure

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders

Individuals who struggle with suicidal ideation may have developed one of the following mental health conditions:

  • Personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorder
  • Psychotic disorders
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