Signs and Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation

No one experiences suicidal ideation the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of suicidal ideation is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

Intrusive thoughts and a preoccupation with death and dying are what define suicidal ideation. Occurring due to stress and a person’s inability to cope in a healthy manner, the presence of suicidal ideations frequently mean that an individual is suffering from a mental illness. Ideations can range in gravity from brief thoughts about death to well-established plans for how an individual will end his or her own life. Sadly, if this kind of thought process persists, a person is at an increased risk for self-harm, attempts at suicide, or suicide completion.

A common misconception is that suicidal ideations always infer that a person going to attempt suicide. And while ideations of suicide are cause for concern, suicide attempts do not always transpire. Despite this misunderstanding, ideations of suicide are considered serious and treatment should be sought so as to reduce the risk of a person acting on these thoughts.


Suicidal ideation statistics

Studies have concluded that males are four times more likely to complete acts of suicide when compared to suicide rates among females. However, within those same studies, it has been realized that females experience more prolonged ideations of suicide than males. The explanation for these findings is believed to be due to the fact that males are more likely to act on initial impulses to attempt suicide than females.

It has been estimated that 94 people die by suicide every day in the United States and that suicide is attempted every 38 seconds. Additionally, it is also estimated that senior adults, between the ages of 65 and 85, attempt suicide every 97 minutes. Lastly, statistics show that suicide is now the leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 19 years old.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation

There are a number of causes and risk factors that lead a person to develop ideations of suicide. Specialists in the mental health field agree that the following can cause the presence of suicidal ideations in an individual:

Genetics: Suicidal ideations suggest the existence of a mental health condition or conditions in a person. Mental illnesses, like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, have genetic origins in those with family members who have a history of mental health problems. When a person has this kind of genetic predisposition, there is a greater likelihood for ideations of suicide to occur.

Physical: The manifestation of suicidal ideations often infer that chemical imbalances have occurred within the brain. When neurotransmitters, chemicals that control mood and the regulation of emotions within a person, do not achieve homeostasis, a person is likely to meet criteria for a mental illness when symptoms, such as suicidal ideations, become apparent.

Environmental: How an individual responds to outside stimuli can render a person more susceptible to the development of a mental health condition if the stimuli causes insurmountable distress. Should a person experience extreme amounts of chaos, trauma, abuse, or neglect, suicidal ideations could appear when an individual is unable to cope with these kinds of stressors. In addition to lacking appropriate and effective coping skills, having an inadequate support network or limited access to helpful resources could cause a person to respond to stress poorly and develop ideations of suicide. Some other examples of environmental precursors that could cause this kind of thinking are: academic failure, bullying, loss of employment, financial ruin, experiencing the death of a loved one or some other kind of major loss.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Undiagnosed mental illness
  • Personal history of substance use
  • Poor support network
  • Experiencing the loss of a friend or loved one
  • Academic failure
  • Loss of employment
  • Homelessness / poverty
  • Being the victim of bullying
  • Being the victim of crime
  • Experiencing trauma, abuse, and/or neglect

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

The signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation may not always be apparent in people. However, there are some signs a person can present with that could infer an individual is suffering from suicidal ideations. Take note of the following if you suspect a friend or loved is battling this kind of inner turmoil:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Temperament changes
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Self-harm
  • Threats of self-injury
  • Use or abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Talking or writing about death and dying
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Decline in interest of things or activities that were once enjoyed

Physical symptoms:

  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Poor hygiene

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory impairment
  • Lack of focus
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Intrusive thoughts about death
  • Inability to fulfill roles / responsibilities

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Hopeless or helpless feelings
  • Depressed mood
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Elevated anxiety
  • Shifts in mood


Effects of suicidal ideation

Suicide attempts could occur if suicidal ideations persist. With death being the most grave of effects that could occur, the following consequences are probable for someone who experiences prolonged ideations of suicide and begins to act on these thoughts or ideas:

  • Recurring acts of self-harm
  • Scars or permanent tissue damage due to self-injury
  • Hemorrhage
  • Broken bones
  • Organ damage or failure
  • Brain damage
  • Paralysis
  • Coma

Co-Occurring Disorders

 Suicidal ideations and co-occurring disorders

The presence of suicidal ideations often signify the existence of a mental health condition or conditions. The subsequent disorders are known to cause ideations of suicide in a person:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Body dysmorphic disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorders
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