Many of the mental health issues closely related to suicidal ideation, like depression and anxiety, are manifestations of trauma. In some cases, trauma can directly lead to suicidal thoughts or behaviors. If you or someone you care about is struggling to work through suicidal thoughts, it is important to examine the relationship between suicide and trauma and seek trauma-informed treatment.
Defining Trauma and Suicide
Trauma is an individual’s psychological and emotional response to a distressing event or series of events. It often goes unnoticed, even by the people experiencing it, for several reasons. Some people may not consider an event traumatic, leading to subconscious or unrecognized trauma. Others may have repressed traumatic memories or feelings that take years—or sometimes decades—to uncover.
Individuals can live for years without experiencing noticeable effects of their trauma, or they may develop psychological issues like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), or suicidal ideation (SI). Suicidal ideation can be passive, which means an individual does not have any plans to commit suicide, or active, which indicates an active threat to an individual’s well-being.
Individuals with severe trauma who struggle to cope with their negative emotions may turn to suicide as a last resort.
What Are the Different Types of Trauma?
To understand the relationship between suicide and trauma, you first need to understand the different types of trauma.
Individuals develop acute trauma after experiencing one distressing event, such as a sexual assault, car crash, robbery, or natural disaster. Acute trauma can cause anxiety, confusion, insomnia, shock, and a lack of focus. If left unaddressed, those feelings can turn into serious psychological issues.
When individuals experience repeated or prolonged traumatic events, they can develop chronic trauma. Causes of chronic trauma may include domestic abuse, bullying, or a serious long-term illness. Several instances of acute trauma can also turn into chronic trauma.
Negative effects of chronic trauma can last for years and affect an individual’s relationships with family members, coworkers, and friends. This ongoing struggle is known as complex trauma, which is often caused by distressing events or a lack of loving relationships during childhood.
Does Trauma Lead to Suicide?
Individuals can experience acute, chronic, or complex trauma or manifestations of trauma without struggling with suicidal thoughts. However, there is a link between suicide and trauma: Experiencing a traumatic event puts individuals at a higher risk of suicide. Several evidence-based studies have found a relationship between these types of trauma and suicidal behavior:
- Childhood trauma: One study found that people who experienced sexual abuse in childhood are at increased risk for suicidal ideation. Another study revealed that all types of childhood abuse are connected with an increased risk of suicide attempts and ideation among adults.
- Sexual trauma: People who have experienced sexual assault have higher rates of suicidality than their peers. In a study of adolescent girls who experienced sexual abuse, 46% reported suicidal thoughts in the past three months.
- Intimate partner violence: Survivors of intimate partner violence are at an increased risk of attempting suicide multiple times.
- Traumatic losses: People who experience the traumatic loss of a loved one, especially by suicide, are at increased risk of attempting suicide themselves and developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Bullying: Young people who experience bullying are up to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-bullied peers.
The link between suicide and trauma should not be surprising, considering that many suicide risk factors are directly or indirectly related to traumatic experiences. However, many individuals and even healthcare professionals fail to recognize trauma and attempt to treat its effects instead of the trauma itself.
How To Cope With Trauma and Suicidal Ideation
It can be challenging to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic event, especially if you or someone you care about is also experiencing suicidality. Here are a few steps that can help individuals cope with thoughts of suicide and traumatic experiences.
Share Your Feelings With Someone Supportive
Many individuals feel alone and isolated after experiencing trauma. If you are struggling with overwhelming feelings, speaking with someone supportive can help. Friends or family members can help you process your emotions and acknowledge when it is time to seek help.
If someone you care about recently experienced a traumatic event, be alert for warning signs of suicide, including expressing thoughts of suicide, sharing a plan, or withdrawing from loved ones.
Suicidal ideation is not always life-threatening, but it can become a more serious issue when combined with other risk factors. Learn More
Seek Trauma-Informed Care
While speaking with a supportive person is a great first step in addressing suicide and trauma, individuals may need professional guidance. If suicidal thoughts progress or a person struggles to cope with trauma alone, it can help to seek out a trauma-informed provider.
When individuals experience suicidal ideation, mental health professionals often resort to medication and interventional care instead of treating underlying trauma. While this approach can provide short-term relief from distressing thoughts, it is not a long-term solution.
A trauma-informed treatment approach seeks to understand and recognize individuals’ trauma and provide personalized care. Instead of viewing suicidal ideation as a problem that needs to be treated, trauma-informed providers seek to understand the events that contributed to suicidal thoughts or other mental health issues.
How PCH Treats Trauma and Suicidal Ideation
Whether an individual recognizes it or not, experiencing a traumatic event can have long-lasting effects on their well-being and lead to suicidal ideation. At PCH Treatment Center, we take a multifaceted approach to suicide and trauma. After performing a psychological and psychiatric evaluation, we recommend a personalized treatment plan for every individual.
Our trauma-informed treatment may include traditional methods like psychodynamic psychotherapy or alternative options like art therapy or trauma-informed yoga. If you are interested in learning more about our approach to suicide and trauma, explore our treatment modalities.