Signs, Symptoms, & Effects of Suicidal Ideation

Understanding the signs, symptoms, causes and effects of suicidal ideation is an important first step toward healing and recovery.

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

Many people who struggle with suicidal thoughts do not ask for help, but that does not mean that they do not need help. Most individuals who feel suicidal don’t actually want to die – they simply want a means to end their suffering, and suicide is a desperate attempt to end their unbearable suffering. A suicidal person is often so blinded by pain, self-loathing, isolation, and hopelessness that he or she cannot fathom any other way to end this or her struggles. Most people who are considering suicide are conflicted about ending their own life because they want an alternative for suicide, but may be unable to see one.

Suicidal ideation is the thought about, or an unusual preoccupation with, suicide. The range of suicidal ideation spans from fleeting thoughts to detailed suicide plans, role playing, and a history of previously unsuccessful attempts. It can be hard to know how to handle it when loved ones express an interest in suicide. If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, it’s vital to take action immediately.

If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, make yourself a promise – do not do anything right now. Promise yourself that you will wait for a day and that you will not do anything drastic. Simply because you are thinking about suicide does not mean that you have to do anything right this moment. Avoid using drugs or alcohol, as these can increase feelings of depression and suicidal ideation. Do not keep suicidal feelings to yourself. Tell a family member, trusted loved one, or a member of your spiritual community because keeping those feelings buried inside you only makes it harder on you. While it may not feel like it at the moment, there is hope, and plenty of people just like you get through these feelings and impulses.

At Options, we understand the bravery it takes to admit that you’re thinking about suicide and we’re ready to help you find treatment for your suicidal ideation and see a bright future. We’ll work with you tirelessly, providing compassionate care, and a shoulder to lean on when you need us most.


Suicidal ideation statistics

Because suicidal ideation involves one’s private thoughts, it is very difficult to truly quantify any data about this symptom’s prevalence. The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that actual completed suicide attempts are the second leading cause of death for individuals under age 34. (Conditions such as heart disease and cancer take over as the leading causes of death for individuals over age 35.) Suicide is among the top ten causes of death for all individuals under age 65. Sadly, a suicide is completed every 94 seconds in the U.S.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation

It’s generally believed that the causes for suicidal thoughts are the result of a number of different factors working together. The most common causes are thought to be:

Genetic: Many of the mental illnesses that cause suicidal feelings have a genetic component, most notably in those who have first-degree relatives who have struggled with suicidal behaviors or thoughts.

Brain Chemistry: Many mental illnesses cause decreased levels of dopamine, the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter, which can cause individuals to feel depressed and empty. These individuals may experience reduced sensations of pleasure, which can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Individuals who have a terminal diagnosis or are living with chronic pain are at increased risk for suicide.

Environmental: Suicidal thoughts may be the result of overwhelming life events including losses, stressful situations, and tremendous emotional pain. Additionally, social isolation adds to the feelings of loneliness and hopelessness.

Psychological: Individuals who struggle with undertreated or undiagnosed mental illnesses may come to feel hopeless and helpless, as they are unable to control their symptoms. They may come to believe that suicide is the only way to relieve the incredible agony they feel. These individuals may seek out alcohol and drug abuse as a way to temporarily numb the pain they’re in.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

The symptoms of individuals who struggle with suicidal thoughts and behaviors may vary from person to person based on symptom severity, presence or absence of an active support system, and other factors. Most people who are considering suicide give off warning symptoms of their intentions which should never be ignored.

Symptoms of suicidal ideation may include the following:

  • Hopelessness
  • Depression
  • Despair
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Sudden change to extreme happiness
  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Talking about having no reason to live
  • Forming a plan for the suicide attempt
  • Wanting to be left alone
  • Violent or rebellious behaviors
  • Running away
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Vague somatic physical symptoms
  • Decline in work or scholastic performance
  • Withdrawing from once-pleasurable feelings
  • Neglecting personal appearance
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Seeking out lethal means to end their life
  • Preoccupation with death or dying
  • Getting affairs in order – making a will, giving away treasured possessions
  • Saying goodbye to loved ones
  • Acting recklessly
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Sudden and extreme personality changes
  • No hope for the future
  • The belief that nothing will get better
  • Sudden sense of calm
  • Increased usage of alcohol or drugs
  • Worsening of emotional health
  • Anhedonia
  • Panic attacks
  • Angst
  • Extreme remorse
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations


Effects of suicidal ideation

There are many heartbreaking effects from suicide attempts. If you’re feeling hopeless and that suicide is the answer, the most important thing you can do is to call 911 – this is a medical emergency. Effects of suicide may include:

  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Self-loathing
  • Anger
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Brain death
  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders

The people that are left behind following a suicide are left grappling with what to do next. As suicide often has a stigma attached to it, and many people don’t experience the normal comfort from others that comes with losing someone they loved. It’s estimated that each suicide leaves behind 6-8 suicide survivors. Some of the common effects suicide survivors note include:

  • Anger
  • Shock
  • Grief
  • Denial
  • Helplessness
  • Guilt
  • Self-blame
  • Feeling responsible for not preventing the suicide
  • Feeling rejected or abandoned by their loved ones
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