Why Passive Suicide Ideation Is Dangerous

By Sarah Fader

Updated January 02, 2019

Reviewer Patricia Corlew , LMFT, LPC,

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According to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention In the United States of America, over 40,000 people die by suicide each year. More people end their lives than people who are murdered. Suicide is a public health crisis that is preventable. In 2015, suicide was the second leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 15 and 34.

It's tragic when a person dies by suicide for the victim as well as their loved ones. In addition to completed suicides. And there are eleven times as many attempts at ending one's life than there are completed suicides. This means that if everyone who tried to end their lives were successful, the number of people dying by suicide would be close to half a million.

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

Suicide ideation is a taboo topic but must be understood to help prevent suicide. 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 concrete plan to harm 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 experience 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 and the person suffers from mental health issues such as Depression or Bipolar Disorder the risk of completed suicide is much higher.

Causes and Risk Factors for Suicide Ideation

There is not one sole cause for suicide ideation. Most researchers agree that a combination of factors including genetic, physical and environmental factors play a role in one's 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 are more likely to 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 or mental illness will also experience suicidal ideation.

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 be at increased risk for depression and suicidal thoughts.

Environmental Risk- People who are consistently under high amounts of stress due to their living environments and life experiences may be at a higher risk for suicide. Those who have known someone close to them who has completed suicide may also be at a higher risk for developing suicide ideation.

Other Risk Factors:

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

Statistically, men are more often successful at suicide attempts than women; however, women have suicidal thoughts more often than men do; this is called the suicide paradox. Death by suicide is four times more likely to happen to men. Male senior citizens are ten times more likely to die by suicide than female senior citizens. Women are twice as likely to attempt suicide than a man but are much less often successful at completing it.

Signs and Symptoms of Suicide Ideation

There is a common misconception that there are no warning signs from people who are successful at completing suicide. It is a mistake to think that individuals who want to complete suicide donot talk about it and try to hide their suicide ideation or that the ones who do talk about it are asking for help and donot plan to go through with suicide. These are dangerous assumptions to make. 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 an option such as "When I am gone," "If I were to kill myself…"
  • Saying goodbye or making amends with loved ones
  • Collecting items that are harmful or potentially dangerous
  • 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 Impairment
  • Obsessing over death
  • Believing the only relief from emotional pain is through death or suicide

Psychosocial Symptoms:

  • Feeling Helpless or Hopeless
  • Feeling that Emotional Pain is Never Ending
  • Self-hatred/ Self-loathing
  • Paranoia
  • Emotional pain
  • Frequent or Drastic Mood Swings
  • Sudden changes in Personality or Behavior
  • Intense Anxiety and Increased Irritability

Those who suffer from suicide ideation may have a various combination of some of these symptoms; but at the minimum, the person will exhibit at least one of these behaviors or signs. If you know someone who could be suffering in silence, make sure to guide them to seek professional help.

Treating Suicide Ideation

A common misconception of suicide treatment is that until an attempt at completing suicide is made, one cannot be treated. This is another dangerous belief. Active suicide ideation is extremely dangerous and potentially deadly. While it is true that someone who has a plan to end their life is more likely to die by suicide than someone who is suffering from passive suicide ideation, that doesnot make passive suicide ideation less important or urgent to address with treatment.

Passive suicide ideation is dangerous; people who have suicidal thoughts often suffer from other mental illnesses such as Depression, Anxiety, or Bipolar Disorder. These diagnoses may 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 health issues

There are many safe places where people can go to get treatment for their mental health issues and suicidal ideation.

Treatment options can include medication, individual and group therapies, as well as holistic approaches to healing. There are various levels of treatment from outpatient therapy appointments which may be weekly, biweekly or 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 and/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.

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Therapy: When treating passive suicide ideation, individual therapy is often very effective. The therapist will determine how often your appointments will be depending upon his/her assessment of your mental health. You may meet weekly bi-weekly or in some cases even monthly. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a popular treatment for suicidal thoughts. This treatment helps clients understand the negative impact of their thoughts and helps them with self-esteem and impulsivity.

Group therapy can also be effective for suicidal ideation, 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 these issues or have had similar experiences. People can build support systems in these groups. Another method of treatment for suicidal ideation is family therapy. This sort of therapy focuses on your immediate family members. The family participates in therapy with the goal of rebuilding, repairing and strengthening familial relationships to build a support system for the person who is struggling.

Holistic Approach: While every therapist or psychologist will treat someone with suicide ideation based on their clinical experience, many mental health professionals are exploring the benefits of Holistic treatments for Depression and suicide ideation. Some of these treatments include Meditation,Mindfulness, and Art Therapy.


Passive suicide ideation is a severe issue and poses a high risk to people, particularly between the ages of 15-35 and over 65. Suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and warning signs are dangerous. They can progress quickly and become active suicidal thoughts overnight. Treatment is not shameful or embarrassing. However, there is a way to treat suicidal ideation that respects the need for the client's privacy: online therapy. Online counseling is available anywhere there is a reliable Internet connect. You can meet with a therapist from the comfort of your own home. Get started talking to someone about suicidal thoughts, click here.

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