Suicidal thoughts, also known as suicidal ideation, are thoughts about how to kill oneself, which can range from a detailed plan to a fleeting consideration and does not include the final act of killing oneself.
The majority of people who experience suicidal ideation do not carry it through. Some may, however, make suicide attempts. Some suicidal ideations can be deliberately planned to fail or be discovered, while others might be carefully planned to succeed.
According to a Finnish study, over one fifth of people who actually died by suicide had discussed their aim with a doctor or other health care professional during their last session.
Fast facts on suicidal thoughts
Here are some key points about suicidal thoughts. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- The vast majority of people with suicidal thoughts do not carry them out to their conclusion
- There are about 30,000 suicides each year in America
- Roughly 4 in 5 American suicide victims are male
- Nearly all completed suicides are among individuals with mental illness
- Causes of suicidal thoughts can include depression, anorexia and substance abuse
- People with a family history of mental illness are more likely to have suicidal thoughts
- People who own guns are more likely to complete suicide
- In America, suicides outnumber homicides by almost 2 to 1
- Suicidal thoughts are preventable and there is plenty of help available - see the last section of this article for more information.
How common is suicide?
Around 4% of people with schizophrenia commit suicide.
USA - according to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), there are about 30,000 completed suicides in America each year, an annual incidence of 0.01%. 80% of suicides are among males.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds. Twenty per cent of all suicides are among this age group.
United Kingdom - according to the NHS (National Health Service), during the last 20 years suicide rates in the UK have been steadily dropping. In 2006, there were 5,554 completed suicides among people aged at least 15 years.
Roughly 140,000 people are hospitalized annually in England and Wales after suicide attempts. Three-quarters of all UK suicides are in males, with the highest risk among those aged 25 to 34 years, followed by 35 to 44 years. After accidental death, suicide is the second most common cause of death in males aged 15 to 44.
The NHS adds that according to its research, nearly all completed suicides are among individuals with a mental illness, for example, depression. Approximately ten to fifteen per cent of patients with bipolar disorder die prematurely due to suicide. About 4% of individuals with schizophrenia die by suicide, usually not long after the onset of symptoms.
Symptoms of suicidal thoughts
There are a number of signs and symptoms of suicidal thoughts; the list below contains some of the most common.
Common symptoms of suicidal thoughts include:
- Appearing to feel trapped or hopeless
- Appearing to have an abnormal preoccupation with violence, dying and/or death
- Being in a heightened state of anxiety
- Being very moody
- Changing personality
- Changing routine
- Changing sleeping patterns
- Consuming (more) drugs
- Consuming more alcohol
- Engaging in risky behavior, such as driving carelessly or taking drugs
- Getting affairs in order
- Getting hold of a gun, medications, or substances that could end a life
- Giving stuff away
- Having depression
- Having panic attacks
- Impaired concentration
- Increased self-criticism
- Isolating oneself
- Psychomotor agitation - such as pacing around a room, wringing one's hands, taking off clothing and putting it back on, and other such actions
- Saying goodbye to others as if it were the last time
- Seeming to be unable to experience pleasurable emotions from normally pleasurable life events such as eating, exercise, social interaction or sex
- Seeming to have severe remorse
- Talking about killing oneself, expressing regret about being alive or ever having been born.
A significant number of people with suicidal ideation keep their thoughts and feelings a secret and appear to show no apparent signs.
According to Medilexicon's medical dictionary, suicide means:
- The act of taking one's own life
- A person who commits such an act.
Causes of suicidal thoughts
Scientists believe that there may be a genetic component to suicidal thoughts.
Suicidal ideation is a feeling people may have when they are no longer able to cope with an overwhelming situation, which could be financial, the death of somebody they love, breaking up, or a devastating/debilitating illness.
There may be a feeling of bleakness and an erroneous assumption that taking their own life might be the answer. If the individual's mental state is heightened enough, suicide may seem to be the only exit.
Experts believe there may be a genetic factor associated with a higher risk of suicide. Individuals with suicidal thoughts, or those who have taken their own lives tend to have a family history of suicide or suicidal thoughts.
The most common situations or life events that might cause suicidal thoughts are grief, sexual abuse, financial problems, remorse, rejection, relationship breakup and unemployment.
Psychiatric factors linked to a higher risk of suicidal ideation include:
- Adjustment disorder
- Anorexia nervosa
- Bipolar disorder
- Body dysmorphic disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Dissociative identity disorder
- Gender dysphoria (Gender identity disorder)
- Major depressive disorder
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Social anxiety disorder
- Substance abuse.
The following risk factors may have an impact on suicidal ideation probability:
- A family history of mental illness/problems
- A family history of substance abuse
- A family history of violence
- A family history of suicide
- A feeling of hopelessness
- A feeling of seclusion or loneliness
- Being homosexual with no family/home support
- Being in trouble with the law
- Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- For children, having disciplinary, social or school problems
- Having a problem with substance abuse
- Having a psychiatric disorder or mental illness
- Having attempted suicide before
- Reckless or impulsive behavior
- The possession of guns
- Sleep deprivation.
On the next page, we look at how suicidal thoughts can be contagious, how to prevent them and resources for anyone who needs support.