Don’t feel bad if you have never heard of the term, “suicidal ideation.” It’s not a commonly used term in regular language, and it’s more commonly used in psychology and medical circles. That said, it’s a good term to know, especially when dealing with someone who is prone to depression.
The suicide ideation definition refers to the condition as the preoccupation with the concept of killing one’s self or the suicide of others. The preoccupation is not a passing fancy; it’s an overt fixation on the act that is evident in just about everything the person wants to see, read, watch or know about. It can range greatly as well. In some cases the person is simply wanting to know everything about suicide in terms of reading or visual display. In other cases a person is engaging in very specific and complex planning about the act or role-playing it. The most extreme cases involve real attempts at suicide that end up being unsuccessful either on purpose to get attention, out of fear of actually dying, or out of sheer ignorance of how to do the act correctly.
Fortunately, the large majority of people who engage in suicide ideation do not actually follow through with the act. It seems to be more of a passing interest, albeit a very scary and risky one, ergo passive suicidal ideation. Yet in reality, the interest seems to be more of an attempt to get attention, forcing others around who take notice to become alarmed again and again at the behavior aberration.
The above is not to say that folks who engage in the practice and concept don’t need help. Many who seriously engage in ideation are dealing with depression of some sort, but they can also be dealing with other psychological conditions, reactions to be big changes in their lives and home, or a destablization of their comfort zone.
Symptomatic behavior is common in cases of suicide ideation or related fixation. These symptoms can be subtle at first and are often blurred in the image-driven changes that teens often go through as they being to transition from child to adult. Loss of weight, frustration, feeling lonely or ugly, being tired all the time, and frantic or erratic behavior are all common patterns in cases. However, as any parent knows, these are also common conditions in normal teens as well. So suicide ideation can be hard to identify early on as a result. It becomes a question of what is suicidal ideation versus normal teen angst and frustration.
It is when more critical symptoms or signs of suicidal ideation start to manifest that the psychological condition really starts to make itself apparent to those living with or around the person. Major signs include:
- Clinical depression
- Inability to sleep or confirmed insomnia
- Lack of eating or gorging/binging
- Feeling no urge to do anything because it’s not worth the effort
- Anxiety attacks
- Inability to focus or perform any serious cognitive work (i.e. grades failing suddenly)
- Flipping out or panic attacks
- Severe guilt or feeling bad about things or how others might take things
- Attention loss and memory loss
If these types of behavior are seen, a parent or loved one should be looking closely at what’s going on with a person versus ignoring the behavior as a fit or a phase. The symptoms combined are often a signal something more is brewing in the person’s head.
The catalysts for suicide ideation can be many, but many times major life events are often the real reason why the condition and related behaviors begin. Where a person has gone through significant life changes, and usually more than one, there is a good chance the ideation condition can set in, especially if the events have been extremely negative and traumatic. Furthermore, many of the life event types tend to be chronic conditions versus those that happen suddenly with little warning notice. The building of the negativity creates an ongoing stress, triggering the ideation as a response to deal with the loss of stability, love, comfort and protection that a person’s environment should have had but now doesn’t.
The life events that have the most likelihood of contribution to a chronic suicidal ideation condition include:
- Alcoholism or abuse in the household – Like many addictions, alcoholism doesn’t just affect the person doing the drinking. It has direct and indirect impacts on all those around the person as well. Further, those who abuse alcohol in large amounts regularly are prone to go into depression when sobering up, triggering the ideation mindset in many cases.
- Alcoholism and unemployment – one’s job and career has a huge influence on the person’s self-worth as well as his or her perceived worth in the eyes of others. No surprise, when a person becomes unemployed, he or she become extremely vulnerable to depression and loss of personal confidence and value. The idea that those around might be better off without a person’s “dead weight” starts to become a repeat thought.
- Heavy tobacco use – As a person continues smoking, it begins to affect their health. At a young age the body can compensate for a while. However, as a person continues heavy use, the body starts to suffer damage. Further, a chronic deficiency of oxygen affects the brain as well. Both combined can have a depressive influence on how a person begins to behave, creating a stage for ideation.
- Unplanned pregnancy – For women, an unplanned pregnancy especially without a plan for stability and raising the child can be traumatic and long-term. For young women it often means a quick end of their teenage years and suddenly being thrust into an adult role they are not mentally ready for. The pregnancy process itself, all the responsibilities, adjusting to care of a child, and negative friction with family members can all contribute to a deep depression that can be augmented by a post-partum phase.
- Chronic bullying or cyber-bullying – Fear of being attacked regularly or ridiculed has long been a source of depression and fear in children and adults. When bullying get so bad that a person is in constant fear of being physical and mentally hurt everyday, it creates a state of stress where escape becomes desperate and needed, even if the method of escaping is extreme.
- Previous attempts at suicide – Anyone who has already made one attempt at suicide is very likely to still retain the same factors that could trigger an attempt again. Suicide ideation can be alive and well in a person, even if the person has gone through treatment after a previous attempt. Many patients have been documented at developing well-crafted fronts just to find the ability to make an attempt again.
- Military and battleground experience – Going through horrific losses of military team partners, seeing people get killed or hurt, and having to cause harm causes significant trauma to a person. That trauma can be very hard to let go, and if it becomes a disorder an affected person can very well look to suicide as a possible escape.
- General instability in the neighborhood – Growing up or living in a high-risk neighborhood creates an ongoing stress condition that forces a person to be on alert for crime and risk. Living through that grind everyday can wear a person down, especially if they think there’s no way to get out of that environment.
- Significant body change – Significant gain or loss in weight as well as body shape can have a huge mental impact on a person, especially if the person was previously in a condition that he or she was happy with. The loss of personal confidence as a result can trigger severe depression, even when the body condition is otherwise logically reversible with exercise and diet.
Clearly, the key to stopping suicidal ideations is to prevent them in the first place. As noted earlier, early signs can be blurred and mixed up with normal teen angst symptoms. However, in adults those issues become far more apparent. So early questions and identification is key to getting a person to go to treatment and reverse the ideation track before it gets worse. In many cases, those who do make it to suicide do so because there was not enough of effort to keep them in treatment, especially when they resist. It’s often the case that fighting and frustration is what drives caretakers away from a patient versus sticking with it and keeping them in treatment.
The good news is that many teens, even those deep in suicide ideation, can come out of it as they reach adulthood mentally and begin to see life smooth out for them. The causation issues that triggered significant stress in their teen years become far less important within just a few years. So time combined with suicidal ideation treatment can often bring out many teens, especially if they can be also separated from the issues that trigger stress such as bullying.
An early suicidal ideation assessment doesn’t start in a clinic even though it may sound so in a medical book. It starts at home with the early symptoms of suicidal ideation. Treatment for depression and suicidal ideation can help and so can age for teenagers, but adults often represent more serious cases who need ongoing help and treatment to stay out of depressive ruts.