Suicidal Thoughts Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Often times the signs of suicidal ideation can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of suicidal ideation.

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

Characterized by pervasive thoughts about and an overwhelming preoccupation with how one would end his or her own life, suicidal ideation can rapidly destroy an individual’s ability to function appropriately each day. The intrusive nature of suicidal ideation can cause individuals to struggle to perform adequately at work or school, to have difficulty interacting socially, and to suffer from an overall inability to fully enjoy life. The presence of suicidal ideation can range in severity from fleeting considerations to well-detailed, fully laid-out plans. Although the persistent nature of suicidal ideation can be all-consuming, its existence does not typically result in an individual’s actually attempting to end his or her life. Yet, the longer that such ideations exist, the more intense they can become, ultimately resulting in an individual feeling as though the only way to free him or herself from the devastating thoughts is by acting on them. For this reason, any suspicion that suicidal ideation exists should be taken seriously so as to prevent the fine line between thoughts and actions from being crossed.

Once suicidal ideation has started to develop, it can be difficult for individuals to defeat such devastating thought patterns on their own. Fortunately, there are various treatment options available that can help these people learn how to take back control of their thoughts, find alternative and healthier means of coping with emotional turmoil, and ultimately develop the tools needed to successfully escape and remain free from the grips of suicidal ideation.


Suicidal ideation statistics

Due to the fact that suicidal ideation refers to a person’s thoughts, it is impossible to determine truly accurate statistics regarding how prevalent its existence is. However, extensive research has shown the devastating impact that such ideation can eventually lead to through the compilation of suicide statistics. In the United States alone, an average of 94 suicides are completed each day. Research has also shown that one person makes an attempt at ending his or her life approximately every 38 seconds. Furthermore, men are said to be four times more likely than women are to complete the act of suicide. However, it is believed that women experience more prolonged periods of suicidal ideation than men do.

Demonstrating the significance of what has become known as an epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) segregated the population into distinct age groups and subsequently showed the impact that suicide has in each group:

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15 and 24.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 25 and 34.
  • Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
  • Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 55 and 64.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation

The development of suicidal ideation is believed to be the result of a combination of various causes and risk factors working together. The following offers brief insight into the genetic, physiological, and environmental factors that are said to play a role in eliciting the onset of suicidal ideation:

Genetic: The presence of suicidal ideation is more often than not symptomatic of a mental health condition. Mental illnesses are known to be heritable in nature as they frequently run in families. While suicidal ideation can be a symptom of any number of mental illnesses, it is most frequently present in those who have depression. Studies that were conducted at Harvard University offered conclusive evidence that approximately 50% of individuals who had biological parents who were battling depression also developed symptoms the illness, including the onset of suicidal ideation, prior to reaching the age of 20.

Physical: Many studies have been conducted on the impact that chemical imbalances in the brain have on determining one’s level of susceptibility to developing a mental illness. Results from such studies show that certain chemical imbalances can bring about the onset of mood dysregulation, a declined ability to control impulses, and a deterioration in the capability one has to make appropriate decisions. More specifically, when there exists decreased levels of the chemical serotonin, one’s mood can become highly disturbed, potentially resulting in the onset of suicidal ideation.

Environmental: There are a number of environmental factors that can render an individual more susceptible to experiencing the devastation of suicidal ideation. Growing up in homes where one lacks love, support, and nurturing can result in delayed emotional development and a lack of appropriate coping skills. Furthermore, being the victim of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse can elicit feelings of helplessness and a destroyed sense of self-worth, both of which can lead to ideations of suicide. Losing a loved one, experiencing a significant trauma, being subjected to bullying, being confronted with financial struggles, or beginning to abuse drugs and/or alcohol can also have the potential for making individuals more susceptible to experiencing chronic thoughts about wanting to end his or her own life.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of depression, bipolar disorder, or another mental health condition(s)
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Personal or family history of substance abuse
  • Suffering from significant familial strife or relationship discord
  • Losing a loved one
  • Knowing someone who died by suicide
  • Being subjected to abuse and/or neglect
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Being bullied
  • Lacking a strong, healthy network of support

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

Discerning whether or not someone is suffering from suicidal ideation can be difficult as it is not something that individuals frequently discuss with those around them. Whether this be due to a fear of the reaction they would receive from sharing the information or due to not wanting to cause their loved ones concern, people typically struggle with these devastating thoughts in private. However, there are some signs that one can look out for that may be present in an individual who is suffering from suicidal ideation. Examples of such signs and symptoms may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Partaking in reckless and/or purposefully dangerous behaviors
  • Social withdrawal or isolation / spending significant amounts of time alone
  • No longer participating in activities once enjoyed
  • Talking and/or writing about death
  • Giving away one’s possessions
  • Drafting suicide notes
  • Changes in temperament that are uncommon for the individual
  • Abusing substances

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Onset of panic attacks
  • Changes in one’s physical appearance / no longer caring how one looks
  • Lacking the ability to experience pleasure
  • Presence of physical injuries due to self-injuring

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Pervasive and intrusive thoughts about death
  • Significant concentration difficulties
  • Impaired memory
  • Lacking the ability to focus

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Loss of a sense of purpose
  • Increased feelings of irritability


Effects of suicidal ideation

The longer that individuals suffer from chronic suicidal ideation, the more likely they are to begin engaging in reckless behaviors that have the potential for life-altering consequences. Furthermore, the presence of suicidal ideation can perpetuate negative feelings and create a vicious cycle of overwhelming, self-defeating effects. Such effects may include:

  • Destroyed self-esteem / loss of any sense of self-worth
  • Overpowering sense of hopelessness about the future
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Relationship disturbances
  • Familial discord
  • Academic or occupational struggles

People who struggle with ideations of suicide also frequently begin to engage in self-harming behaviors as well, of which can bring about many detrimental physical effects depending upon the methods that one chooses to use. Examples of such effects can include:

  • Permanent scarring
  • Paralysis
  • Tissue damage
  • Broken bones
  • Hemorrhaging
  • Brain damage
  • Coma
  • Vital organ damage
  • Total organ failure
  • Accidental death

The most devastating effect of ongoing, untreated suicidal ideation is when a person becomes too overwhelmed with his or her thoughts and makes the fatal decision to end his or her life.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders

As mentioned, suicidal ideations typically infer that a mental health condition is present. Examples of mental illnesses that have been known to elicit ideations of suicide as a symptom include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Substance use disorders
What Past Clients Say

I came here during the worst time of my life. I had so much anxiety coming in but the girls in the admissions area were so pleasant and answered all my questions. The hospital was clean and staff were friendly and helpful on the unit. The medicine they gave me helped so much, and I finally feel like myself again. If you’re willing to participate and go to all the groups, you will get something out of the program. I went right from inpatient to their day program for a week afterwards, and that helped me stay focused too.

– Alumni
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