Experiencing suicidal thoughts—also called suicidal ideation—can present a serious risk when an individual is already struggling with suicidality or depressive states. However, just because someone is experiencing suicidal ideation, it does not always mean they are suicidal. Learn more about the distinction and important warning signs.
How Does Suicidal Ideation Differ From Suicidal Thoughts?
Suicidal ideation is a term used to describe the experience of suicidal thoughts. Anyone may experience suicidal thoughts from time to time. In fact, it is not rare for individuals to report random thoughts about harming themselves or others despite the fact that they have no intention of acting on those thoughts. In order to understand suicidal ideation, it is necessary to also understand how it relates to suicidality, or an intention to act on those thoughts.
The Difference Between Suicidality and Suicidal Ideation
Not surprisingly, suicidal ideation and suicidality—the urge to act on suicidal thoughts—often go hand in hand. An individual cannot be suicidal without experiencing suicidal ideation to some degree. However, just because someone is experiencing suicidal ideation, it does not mean that they are suicidal. If you are experiencing recurring thoughts of suicide, it may be a sign of a deeper issue and you should seek professional help, even if you have no immediate intention to act on those thoughts.
Active vs. Passive Suicidal Ideation
Suicidal ideation can occur in two forms—active and passive. When someone experiences active suicidal ideation, they have thoughts about ending their own life. Passive suicidal ideation, on the other hand, involves thoughts of or a desire for the pain to end that do not involve the individual taking their own life.
Thoughts may revolve around their accidental or unplanned death. On the surface, passive ideation may seem less dangerous than active suicidal ideation, but passive ideation can become more active. As a result, passive suicidal ideation can be just as serious of a sign that there is a deeper issue as active ideation.
Are you or someone you care about struggling with symptoms of depression? Learn more about when to seek help. Learn More
Critical Warning Signs When Someone Is Struggling With Suicidal Ideation
Some of the warning signs that suicidal ideation may be indicative of a more serious issue stemming from depression include:
A History of Suicidal Ideation
Everyone has experienced suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives. If the thought of dying appears in your mind during a difficult time and is not connected to actual planning, it is a normal part of human experience and is not necessarily concerning if not perseverative and not accompanied by a suicide plan. However, when someone experiences a pattern of suicidal thoughts that recurs over a period of weeks to months, they may be struggling with more serious issues related to depression or other psychic pain.
A Suicidal Plan
If suicidal ideation is accompanied by a suicide plan, it is very important to assess the potential of acting upon that plan. Is the plan vague, or a detailed plan of how the person would carry out the plan? Does the person possess the means (pills, a gun, access to high places, etc) to carry out a suicide plan? Does the plan include being away from potential supports that might interrupt the plan, or do they plan to carry out the suicide in an isolated place with no one else around? And finally, have they made an attempt in the past? The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
Past Suicide Attempts
When someone has acted on suicidal thoughts in the past, suicidal ideation is one of the first warning signs that they might try again. After a period of suicidal ideation, a person may develop a plan and before long, act on it. When someone who has tried committing suicide in the past and are having suicidal thoughts, it is critical to get them professional help in a safe environment as quickly as possible.
A History of Depression
If someone has struggled with serious depressive symptoms in the past, suicidal ideation should be taken seriously. They may not have an immediate intention to act on their thoughts at the time, but those thoughts can return during high-stress or emotional situations when they do not possess the same level of self-control.
Drug or Alcohol Use
Drug or alcohol use can increase the intensity and frequency of suicidal thoughts while making it more difficult for someone to regulate their emotions. When someone is struggling with substance use in conjunction with suicidal ideation, it is critical to account for both issues when seeking help.
Do You Need Help Understanding Suicidal Thoughts?
If you are struggling to understand the source of suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. The presence of suicidal thoughts can be jarring and disorienting, especially when you do not understand where they are coming from. If you are seeking clarity, learn more about how PCH treats suicidality.