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Suicidal Ideation

A heartbreaking statistic cites that nearly 800,000 people die by suicide each year around the world. It is also the second leading cause of death for people 15-24 years of age. Although not the same as committing suicide, suicidal ideation is often a symptom of a mental health disorder such as depression.

In a broad definition, suicidal ideation is when a person is either actively thinking about taking their own life, or imagining what it would be like to not exist without planning to commit suicide. These two distinctions are important. One is called passive suicide ideation and the other is active suicide ideation.

The impact of suicidal ideation is not limited to the individual experiencing it but can also affect their loved ones and the community as a whole. In addition, it is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24, highlighting the need for increased awareness and support.

There are two main types of suicidal ideation: passive and active. Passive suicidal ideation refers to the individual experiencing thoughts of death and dying but without a specific plan or intention to take their own life.  Passive suicidal ideation is more common than active suicidal ideation and can be a symptom of depression or other mental health conditions. Individuals with passive suicidal ideation may feel overwhelmed by their emotions and the challenges they face, leading them to wish they were dead without actively seeking a way to end their life.

Active suicidal ideation, on the other hand, involves the individual having a plan or intention to take their own life. Active suicidal ideation is a more immediate and critical concern than passive suicidal ideation, as it involves the individual having a specific plan or intention to take their own life. This may include thoughts of how they would commit suicide or even attempt to acquire the means to do so. Individuals experiencing active suicidal ideation require urgent and professional help to prevent them from taking their own life. It is crucial to take any talk of suicide seriously and not dismiss it as a passing phase or a cry for attention.

Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation

If you’re worried a loved one is experiencing suicidal ideation, or you are, there are things to look out for and be aware of.

Symptoms of suicidal ideation include:

  • A disinterest in things they once enjoyed
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Anxiety
  • Experimenting with self-harm
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling numb
  • Hard time focusing
  • Having intrusive thoughts or a preoccupation about death and dying
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Loss of memory
  • Mood swings
  • Not able to perform responsibilities
  • Social isolation
  • Talking about death or dying more frequently


If you have suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

If you prefer to text someone, there is a 24/7 support line at 741741. Texting that number will put you in touch with a Crisis Counselor.

The Trevor Project is a national organization providing suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning people under the age of 25. Their phone is available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386 or by text at 678678.

The Veterans Crisis Line is also 24/7 and can be reached by phone at 1-800-273-8255 or by text at 838255.

SAMHSA has additional resources available.

Treatment of Suicidal Ideation

The treatment for suicidal ideation depends on the individual’s unique situation. If they have attempted and are injured, call 911. If you are not injured but are in immediate danger of harming yourself, call 911 or a suicide hotline number (988).

If this is not an emergent situation, help is still available. This can include psychotherapy, counseling or talk therapy, medication if necessary, treatment for co-occurring disorders such as addiction, and family support and education.