What are suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideation? Suicidal thoughts are those fleeting moments when someone believes that their pain will subside through death. It’s not necessarily true that they want to “end” their lives; they just want the pain to stop. They feel there are no other options. Suicidal ideation are plans to actually commit the act. These thoughts are plans on “how” to commit the act of suicide, although rarely acted upon, need to be addressed. It does not mean a person will necessarily carry through on these thoughts, however, intervention may be needed to prevent one from carrying through with the plan.
What Does Considering Suicide Mean?
Although, statistics have shown the majority of persons with suicidal thoughts do not carry through with them, it is not something which should be taken lightly or dismissed. Adolescents, in particular do not realize the concept that “suicide” or taking your own life is permanent. Our youth cannot understand that we do not come back from such actions nor do they have the life experience to contemplate the devastation suicide will cause their families. “I want to kill myself” from a child (and adults) could be a way of communicating that their pain inside feels as if it is too much to bare, another way of asking for help. No statements like this should ever be discounted. Seek help immediately if you suspect your child, friend or loved one is having these thoughts and you feel they are thinking of suicide. Our first reaction should be to keep them out of harm’s way.
Rarely during our lifetime do we not have a suicidal thought or have felt that death would be more pleasant than our current situation. However, there is difference between a fleeting thought and actually planning your death.
In Australia “suicide is a prominent public health concern. Over the past five years, the average number of suicide deaths per year is 2,415. In 2012, approximately 75% of people who died by suicide were males and 25% were females” (Facts and stats about suicide in Australia, 2014).
What Causes Suicidal Thoughts or Ideations?
Sometimes life can seem unbearable. Our circumstances, mental disorders (this does not mean the person has lost their mind or is crazy), loss of a loved one, loneliness, loss of a job and financial security, a relationship breakup or divorce can trigger thoughts of suicide. Usually these thoughts occur during a crisis or stressful situation. Depression is almost always present during these situations.
There are also usually other mental health disorders (Fawcett, 2007) associated with persons who consider suicide incessantly or have attempted suicide or possibly contemplating suicide. It is possible the thoughts are genetic if there were other family members who committed suicide.
Our youth are vulnerable to suicidal thoughts; suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth.
Risk Factors Associated with Suicidal Behaviour in Young People (Mythbuster: Suicidal Ideation, n.d.):
- A previous suicide attempt
- Mental health and substance use disorders
- Physical illness: terminal, painful or debilitating illness
- Family history of suicide, alcoholism and/or other psychiatric disorders
- A history of abuse: sexual, physical or emotional
- Social isolation and/or living alone
- Bereavement in childhood
- Family disturbances
- Unemployment, change in occupational or financial status
- Rejection by a significant person, e.g., relationship breakup
- Recent discharge from psychiatric hospital
Recognizing Suicidal Thoughts or Feelings
First and foremost we must learn to recognize the signs of suicide or the thoughts and actions associated with suicide. They include:
- No longer participating in activities or socializing with groups
- “They may experience persistent insomnia or inability to sleep and sometimes a loss of appetite coupled with weight loss” (Fawcett, 2007)
- Hopelessness or a feeling of helplessness
- Alcohol or substance abuse issues
- Writing or talking incessantly about death or suicide
- Disbursing important belongings or items they cherished or valued
- Statements such as “I wish I were dead,” “I want to kill myself”
- History of suicide or violence in the family
- Self-destructive behaviour
Please note these are only some indicators; there are many more.
Assistance for Persons with Suicidal Thoughts
- Support. Always listen when someone is discussing suicide with you. Do not allow them to isolate or push you away. Stay with them and seek assistance
- If the person is persistent, call emergency services immediately
- Antidepressants have been successful in relieving suicidal thoughts
- Seek help. Neither you nor the person wishing or feeling they want to give up on life can deal with this situation alone. Some people have uncontrollable impulses, which if left alone, they will act on
- Do not be judgmental or condemn the person for their thoughts
- Do not try to shame the person or belittle them for the way they are feeling. They may have no control over their thoughts
- Speak openly about the suicidal thoughts; sometimes, communication and talking about their feelings can assist
- Remember to let the person know that you do love them and you do care for them
- Offer alternatives of coping with pain, make suggestions such as; reading, writing about their feelings, drawing, talking about the pain or the source of the pain
- Ask the person “How can I help”? (Sometimes, knowing that someone else is reaching out their assistance and is willing to stick with you through this, can be of great comfort)
- If necessary, walk with them or go with them to the hospital
Prevention of Suicidal Thoughts
- If you’re having suicidal thoughts, do not allow yourself to be alone. Don’t isolate!
- Do not drink, take drugs or any substance that may alter the mind.
- Give yourself time…meaning, give yourself one more day, repeat to yourself “not today”…
- Take away anything in your home that you’ve contemplated using in your “plan” for suicide.
- Hope remains; tomorrow is another day, a better day, sleep on it. Hang on…Dream…
- Remind yourself of beautiful moments in your life, do not allow the negative thoughts to take over.
- Share your feelings with someone, don’t go it alone. Talking about suicide with others not only makes us feel better, it is reaching out for help, and this is okay.
- Exercise…go for that walk, that run, surround yourself with nature.
- Seek help from a professional if the sadness continues or the thoughts of suicide.
We’ve talked about what suicidal thoughts are, the warning signs, what to look for and how to help; however, it is also important to understand “What NOT to do”.
“(Smith, Segal, & Robinson, 2014) share with us the following information and suggestions:
- Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: “You have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt your family,” or “Look on the bright side.”
- Act shocked, lecture on the value of life, or say that suicide is wrong.
- Promise confidentiality. Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.
- Offer ways to fix their problems, or give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.
- Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility. (Adapted from: Metanoia.org)
Remember to take suicide seriously. Most of the time suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideations will subside; however, there is the chance they may not. We must reach out and help those who feel death is their only way out. Your support, what you do and how you react could be the difference between a life or death…
Resources for assistance:
Lifeline: Call Lifeline 13 11 14 or 000
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 65 94 67
Facts and stats about suicide in Australia. (2014, March 25). Retrieved November 20, 2014, from Mindframe National Media Iniative: http://www.mindframe-media.info/for-media/reporting-suicide/facts-and-stats
Fawcett, J. (2007, March). Suicidal Feelings — The Dana Guide. Retrieved November 2014, 2014, from Publications and Multimedia: http://www.dana.org/Publications/GuideDetails.aspx?id=50050
Mythbuster: Suicidal Ideation. (n.d.). Retrieved November 20, 2014, from headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation: http://www.headspace.org.au/media/37817/suicidal_ideation_mythbusterv2.pdf
Smith, M., Segal, J., & Robinson, L. (2014, November). Suicide Prevention – How to Help Someone who is Suicidal. Retrieved November 21, 2014, from HelpGuide: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/suicide-prevention/suicide-prevention-helping-someone-who-is-suicidal.htm
Adapted from WHO (2000) Preventing suicide a resource for general practitioners.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2014). Op. Cit.