Why Passive Suicide Ideation Is Dangerous

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In the United States of America, over 40,000 people die from suicide annually. More people take their own lives than people are murdered in the US and 2011, suicide was number 10 for leading causes of death. Suicide is a public health crisis that is also preventable. In 2015, suicide was the second leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 15 and 34.

A more shocking statistic that people don't often talk about is just how many people attempt to commit suicide. There are eleven times as many attempts at suicide than there are deaths. This means that if everyone who tried to commit suicide were successful, the number of people dying from suicide would be closer to half a million.

On a global scale, 1 million adults report that they have made a suicide attempt according to the World Health Organization. This number is estimated to be much higher however because it is based on only the people who admitted their suicidal ideation. 800,000 people die due to suicide annually across the globe

Suicide idea is not talked about often and must be understood to help prevent suicides. When people have suicidal thoughts, this is called suicidal ideation. There are two forms of suicide idea, active and passive. Active suicide ideation is when you have thoughts of harming or killing yourself and have formulated a plan that you intend to carry out. Passive suicide ideation is when you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, but no actual plan to hurt yourself.

Active suicide ideation is very dangerous. If you know someone who is contemplating suicide and may have already formulated a plan, or maybe this is you, please call 911 immediately. Some people who are suffering from suicidal ideation may not ask for help or believe they need it, but that does not mean that medical intervention is not needed.

When someone is having suicidal thoughts that are more than just fleeting thoughts on particularly bad days, and the person suffers from mental disorders such as depression, or bipolar, the risk potential is much higher.

Causes And Risk Factors For Suicide Ideation

There is no absolute cause known for suicide ideation. Most researchers agree that a combination of factors including genetic, physical and environmental factors play a role in mental well being and whether someone has suicidal thoughts.

Genetic Risk- If you are born into a family with a history of mental illness, you will be more likely to also suffer from mental illness. There is no genetic component to suicide ideation, no specific piece of DNA that makes someone develop suicide ideation. Not everyone who has a family history of suicide, mental illness will also suffer from these disorders.

Physical Risk- One of the possible biological or physical risk factors associated with suicide ideation is the way the brain transmits dopamine and serotonin. People who have abnormally low levels of these neurotransmitters can increase the risk for depression and suicidal thoughts.

Environmental Risk- People who are constantly under high amounts of stress due to their living environments and life experiences may have a harder time using coping mechanisms and can be at a higher risk for suicide. Those who have known someone close to them that has committed suicide are also at a higher risk for developing suicide ideation because the act is on their mind more often.

Other Risk Factors:

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  • Untreated mental illness
  • Prior attempts at suicide
  • Domestic violence
  • Having guns in the home
  • Incarceration

Statistically, men more often successful at suicide attempts than women; however, women have suicidal thoughts more often than men do. This is referred to as the suicide paradox. Death by suicide is four times more likely to happen to men. An even more profound difference is in male senior citizens. These men are 10 times more likely to die of suicide than female senior citizens. Women are twice as likely to attempt suicide than a man but are much less often successful at it.

Signs And Symptoms Of Suicide Ideation

There is a common misconception that there are no warning signs for people that are successful at committing suicide. Many people have thought that people who do want to commit suicide, don't talk about it or try to hide their suicide ideation and the ones that do talk about are asking for help and don't plan to go through with suicide. These are dangerous assumptions to make. According to nearly all psychologist, there are many warning signs of suicide and suicide ideation that are either behavioral, physical, cognitive, or psychosocial.

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Giving away possessions
  • Talking about death, dying, or not being around in the future
  • Using phrases that make death sound like certainty, "When I am gone," "If I were to kill myself…"
  • Saying goodbye or making amends with loved ones
  • Collecting items that are harmful or possibly harmful
  • Social withdraw
  • Increased drug or alcohol usage
  • Not participating in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Engaging in risky or potentially harmful behaviors

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Physical Symptoms:

  • Scars from past attempts at suicide or self-harm
  • Drastic or sudden change in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Chronic illness

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Obsessing over death
  • Belief that the only end to emotional pain is through death or suicide

Psychosocial Symptoms:

  • Feeling Helpless or Hopeless
  • Feeling that emotional pain is never ending
  • Self-hate
  • Paranoia
  • Emotional pain
  • Having frequent or drastic mood swings
  • Sudden changes in personality or behavior
  • Intense anxiety and increased irritability

It is important to note that those who suffer from suicide ideation may have some, all or none of these symptoms; however, in most cases, the person will exhibit at least one of these signs. If you know someone who may be suffering in silence, make sure to guide them to seek professional help.

Treating Suicide Ideation

Another common misconception of suicide treatment is that, until you try to commit suicide, you cannot be treated. This is another dangerous belief. Active suicide ideation is actively dangerous. Someone who has a plan to commit suicide and has gotten their ducks in a row to carry out that plan is more likely to commit suicide today than someone who is suffering from passive suicide ideation, but that doesn't make passive suicide ideation less important or urgent to address with treatment.

Passive suicide ideation is dangerous because people who have suicidal thoughts often suffer from other mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar. These mental disorders also increase a person's likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol which can intensify suicidal thoughts and behavior.

The long-term effects of suicide ideation are challenging and often devastating. Other than the death of the person which also tremendously affects the surviving loved ones, suicidal thoughts and behaviors can also cause:

  • Traumatic injury
  • Organ damage
  • Brain damage or death
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Extreme guilt
  • Shame
  • Anger
  • Depression and other mental disorders

People who are severely depressed may need to consider a long-term, inpatient rehabilitation program. There are many safe places where patients can go to overcome or be treated for their mental disorders and suicidal ideation.

Most treatment options can include medication, individual and group therapy, and holistic approaches to treatment. There are various levels of treatment from outpatient therapy appointments monthly to intensive rehab that can last as long as six months to a year.

Medication: Medications may be prescribed by your doctor to help with suicide ideation or depression. Some people need to be medicated long term while others who may be dealing with situational depression or suicidal ideation may only need short-term medication options.

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Therapy: When treating passive suicide ideation, individual therapy is very effective. Some therapists may want to meet weekly, or even more frequently, while others may be comfortable meeting bi-weekly or monthly. The common behavioral health practices used in this type of therapy is called cognitive-behavioral therapy. This treatment helps patients to understand the negative impact of their thoughts and help with self-esteem, self-control, and impulsivity.

Group therapy can also be very effective, especially for those who have made a prior suicide attempt or have active suicide ideation because they can engage in therapy with people who are going through or have gone through similar experiences and support systems can be built. Another method of treatment is family therapy in which your immediate family members or household members will participate in therapy with a goal of rebuilding or repairing and strengthening familial relationships to build a support system.

Holistic Approach: While every therapist or psychologist will treat someone with suicide idea based on their clinical experience, many doctors are exploring the benefits of holistic treatment for depression and suicide ideation. Some of these treatments include relationation and mediation techniques, mindfulness techniques, games, sports, arts and other creative outlets.


Passive suicide ideation is dangerous and poses a high risk to people, especially in the ages of 15-35 and over 65. Suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and indicators should be taken seriously as they can progress quickly and become active suicidal thoughts overnight. Treatment is not shameful or embarrassing. Mental health professionals are discrete, and there is even online therapy available from the comfort of your own home. To get started talking to someone about suicidal thoughts, click here.

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