Changes in mood, behavior, or personal circumstances can lead to depression which – if not treated – can increase your risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. Mental illness, in general, can increase the danger of suicide but knowing the symptoms and warning signs to look out for can be helpful.
What Is Suicidal Ideation?
“Suicidal ideations (SI), often called suicidal thoughts or ideas, is a broad term used to describe a range of contemplations, wishes, and preoccupations with death and suicide. There is no universally accepted consistent definition of SI, which leads to ongoing challenges for clinicians, researchers, and educators,” according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
It often has various operational definitions, interfering with how doctors compare research outcomes and recommend appropriate treatment for such thoughts.
People thinking of suicide often struggle with risk factors which may include:
- Mental illness
- Alcohol or other substance use challenges
- Reckless or aggressive inclinations
- History of abuse or trauma
- Critical physical ailment
- Past attempted suicide
- Family history
- Job loss or economic hardship
- Relationship problems
- Unfettered access to lethal items
- Afraid of asking for help
- Absence of healthcare, particularly in regards to substance abuse and mental health treatment
- Cultural and religious beliefs
- Knowing someone who died by suicide
Here are five steps you can take to help someone with suicidal thoughts:
- Ask the difficult question: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Studies show that asking an at-risk person if they’re suicidal doesn’t boost suicidal thoughts or attempts.
- Help the person stay safe by reducing access to highly deadly items or places. This isn’t always easy, but simply asking if your friend or loved one has a plan, and taking away or halting the lethality, means you can make a difference.
- Be present: Listen carefully and learn what’s being felt and thought. Acknowledging and talking about suicide can reduce the chances of it happening.
- Put them in touch with the right resources.
- Stay connected: “Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.”
What Are The Warning Signs of Suicidal Ideation?
- Sadness or moodiness. Depression is a considerable risk factor for suicide.
- The person suddenly exhibits calmness after being depressed or moody.
- The person prefers being alone and side-steps friends or social events.
- They’re no longer interested in something they enjoyed before.
- Changes in appearance, personality, or sleep habits. The person may have attitude or behavior changes (speaks or moves slowly), or they suddenly have less concern about personal appearance and hygiene. They also sleep more or less compared to how they slept before.
- The person does potentially dangerous activities, such as driving recklessly, having unprotected intercourse, or increasing their use of alcohol and/or drugs.
- Had a recent trauma or life crisis (death of a loved one or pet, divorce or relationship problems, received a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, job loss, or severe financial distress).
- Your friend or loved one discusses feelings of hopelessness, no reason to live any longer, being a burden to someone else, feeling trapped, severe emotional pain.
- Putting their personal business in order. They could see friends and family members, give up personal possessions, file a will, and tidy up their home or room. Some people may jot down a note before trying suicide.
- Talking about choosing to die or threatening suicide. Not everyone thinking of suicide will verbalize it, and not everyone who warns of suicide will act to carry it out. But all suicide threats should be taken seriously.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Some people who have suicidal thoughts may be experiencing mental illness or physical pain caused by injury or illness. Prevention often begins with diagnosis, which may or may not involve:
- A physical examination by a medical doctor.
- A psychiatric assessment by a mental health professional where your symptoms are compared to criteria in the DSM-5.
If suicidal ideation is driven by depression or another mental illness, your doctor may recommend psychotherapy, self-help, antidepressants, or other medicine. Depending on the severity of your condition–and whether it’s been treated before–your doctor may recommend more innovative options like ketamine therapy.
If you’re thinking of suicide or have made a suicide attempt, reach out to someone who can help – a loved one, trusted friend, local support group, doctor, or spiritual advisor. Recognizing there’s a problem is the first step in overcoming the risk of suicidal ideation. Look online for more information.