Suicide is the act of taking one’s own life on purpose. Suicidal thoughts, or suicidal ideation, essentially means thinking about or planning to commit suicide. The thoughts can range from a detailed plan to a fleeting consideration.
Suicide is a serious problem and affects people in all walks of life, culture and socioeconomic status. It is the second leading cause of death for individuals aged 10-34, and the fourth leading cause of death for those aged 35-54. Suicide is preventable and while most people want to live, they are simply unable to see alternative solutions and feel like they have no other option.
Suicidal thoughts are fairly common and many people experience them when they are undergoing stress or experiencing depression. In most cases these are temporary and can be treated, but in some cases they place the individual at risk for attempting or completing suicide.
While men are more likely than women to die by suicide, women are twice as likely to attempt suicide. Most suicide attempts do not result in death, and many of these attempts are done in a way that makes rescue possible and are more often than not a cry for help. Such attempts include things like poisoning or overdose. Men are more likely to choose violent methods such as shooting themselves, which results in a higher death rate per attempt.
The loved ones of people who attempt or complete suicide often blame themselves or become very angry as they may see the suicide attempt as selfish. It is important to understand however, that the people who do attempt suicide often believe they are doing their loved ones a favor by taking themselves out of the world.
The path to healing starts with one person saying, “ I care and I’m here to listen”. Being aware of the risk factors, warning signs and knowing what to do to help can be the difference between life and death.
Causes And Risk Factors
Suicide and suicidal thoughts have many causes, most often the result of feeling like you can’t cope when you’re faced with what seems to be an overwhelming life situation. When an individual doesn’t have hope for the future, they may mistakenly think that suicide is the only answer and they experience a sort of tunnel vision where suicide is their only way out. This could stem from financial problems, death of a loved one, devastating illness or a broken relationship.
The following risk factors, may however have an impact on the probability of someone to experience suicidal ideation or thoughts:
- Previously attempted suicide before.
- Feel hopeless, worthless, agitated, socially isolated or lonely.
- Have a substance abuse problem.
- Have an underlying psychiatric disorder, such as major depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or bipolar disorder.
- Experience a stressful life event, such as loss of a loved one, break up etc.
- Possessing a firearm.
- You are Living with an unsupportive family or in a hostile environment.
- Have a history of mental disorders, substance abuse, suicide or violence.
Genetic factors may also increase the risk of suicide ideation and individuals who tend to experience suicide thoughts tend to have a family history with suicide and the likes.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms?
Often, but not always, a person may show certain signs and symptoms before a suicide attempt. Warning signs are not always obvious and may vary from person to person but some people make their intentions clear while others keep them secret. Some warnings signs include:
- Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stocking up on pills.
- Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone.
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs.
- Talking about suicide, making statements like “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born.”
- Having mood swings, with high highs and low lows.
- Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy.
- Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order with no other logical explanation.
- Changing sleep patterns and habits.
Your doctor may do a physical exam, tests and an in depth questioning about your mental and physical health to help determine what may be causing your suicidal thinking and to determine what may be causing your suicidal thinking and to determine the best treatment. Assessments may include:
- Physical health conditions – Suicidal thinking may be linked to an underlying physical health problem. Blood tests may be ordered to determine whether this is the case.
- Mental health conditions – In most cases, suicidal thoughts are linked to an underlying mental health issue that can be treated.
- Alcohol and drug misuse – Many people have alcohol and drugs play a role in suicide thinking and completed suicide. Your doctor will want to know whether you have any problems with drug or alcohol use.
- Medications – For some people over the counter or prescription drugs can cause suicidal feelings.
Treatment And Prevention
Suicidal ideation can be a symptom of a mental health problem such as depression or bipolar disorder. A significant number of mental health problems can be successfully treated or managed with medications and talking therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy or counselling. Once treatment starts it is important to follow the treatment plan and attend follow up appointments as well as take medications. A few things you can do at home to help reduce the risk are:
- Avoid drugs and alcohol – Alcohol and recreational drugs can worsen suicidal thoughts.
- Form a strong support network – This may include family, friends or members of your church or other place of worship.
- Get active – Physical activity and exercise have been shown to reduce depression symptoms.