What is suicidal ideation?

Posted on 09/22/23 09:50:am


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Suicidal ideation refers to a person’s thoughts about hurting themselves and includes serious consideration or planning of suicide. Rogers’ Nancy Goranson, PsyD, answers six key questions about suicidal ideation and provides important resources to help those who are struggling.

How common is suicidal ideation?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 12.3 million adults in the U.S. thought about suicide, 3.5 million developed a plan to end their lives, and 1.7 million enacted that plan in 2021. Additionally, the American Psychological Association found that 30% of teens have seriously considered suicide, with 13% enacting those plans. It’s also important to note that Black youth and LGBTQ+ individuals show a rising risk for suicide. Although there are complex reasons for this, it is important to be aware of the societal aggressions and stressors these groups face and how they impact their daily lives.

What are the possible symptoms of suicidal ideation that may be noticeable to others?

  • Talking, writing, or drawing about suicide and death
  • Doing online searches about suicide
  • Preoccupation with death and dying
  • Loss of interest in things they care about
  • Increased risk taking, reckless behavior, or impulsivity
  • Talk of being a burden to others
  • Increasingly withdrawn from friends and social activities
  • Increased hopelessness
  • Recent loss or threat of a loss, such as the breakup of a friendship or relationship, loss of a pet, etc.
  • Writing suicide notes
  • Talk of feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about predicted stressors or failures
  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Loss of interest in personal appearance
  • Increased substance use
  • Stockpiling means (for example, hoarding pills)

There’s a common belief that talking about suicide increases risk. Is this true?

This is false. Asking directly about suicide saves lives, while not asking may increase the risk of death.

What should someone do if they suspect their loved one is considering suicide?

There are many things you can do, including:

  • Express your concern about the behaviors you are seeing.
  • Listen attentively and non-judgmentally.
  • Reflect on what they share with you and let them know they have been heard.
  • Tell them they are not alone and stay with them.
  • If there is an immediate safety crisis and you do not feel confident in keeping them safe, call 9-1-1 or go to your local emergency room.
  • Eliminate access to means that can be used to end their lives.

How can people of all ages talk to loved ones experiencing suicidal ideation?

Above all, show an openness to having the conversation with them. Do not minimize their pain or emotions, and do not judge them or suggest that they are being manipulative or overreacting.

Find a private, quiet, safe space to talk and then listen and be fully present for them. Encourage them to share their feelings and needs in an unhurried way.

The natural tendency is to want to solve your loved ones’ problems, especially when it comes to suicide, but it’s important to remember that in order to help them you first need to truly understand their experience. Express hope and share your feelings of concern and care for them. Stay calm and follow the steps above if you believe they are at immediate risk. Regardless of urgent risk, encourage and facilitate a way for them to seek help through a hotline or their support system, who can facilitate treatment options.

What else should people know about suicidal ideation?

I want to emphasize that, even though it may not seem so in the moment, there is hope! People who experience suicidal thoughts and behaviors can and do go on to live fulfilling lives.

Phone helplines are always available, including:

  • 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, a national network of local crisis centers across the country that provides free and confidential support to those in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24/7. By calling, texting, or chatting 988, people are connected to trained counselors.
    • Veterans may press “1” after dialing 988 to connect to the Veterans Crisis Lifeline
    • A Spanish language line is available at 1-888-799-4889
    • TTY users may use their preferred relay service or dial 711, then 988.
  • ​​​​LGBT National Hotline
    • LGBT National Hotline: 888-843-4564
    • LGBT National Youth Talkline: 800-246-7743
    • LGBT National Senior Hotline: 888-234-7243
  • Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860
  • The Trevor Project

Additionally, there are treatments for depression that are well-proven to work. Please seek treatment and encourage those you love to do the same!


Call 800-767-4411 or go to rogersbh.org to request a free screening.