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What is Suicidal Ideation and What Can You Do About It?

Whether you have fleeting or chronic thoughts about suicide, here's how to know when and where to get help
What is suicidal ideation

Suicidal ideation is when you have thoughts about your own suicide. This may mean you've had only a brief thought about dying by suicide or created a detailed suicide plan.

Suicidal ideation is common, especially during severe depression or stress. Suicidal ideation does indicate a higher risk of dying by suicide, but it is treatable.

Active or Passive Suicidal Ideation

Active suicidal ideation involves thoughts of doing something to deliberately end your life, such as taking an intentional overdose of medication.

Passive suicidal ideation involves thinking about dying from another cause. You may have thoughts about wishing to die in your sleep or a car accident.

Although many people believe that passive suicidal ideation is less risky, research suggests that people with passive suicidal ideation are still at risk of death by suicide.

Intrusive Thoughts Are Not Suicidal Ideation

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted, upsetting ideas that come to mind suddenly. Having intrusive thoughts does not mean you secretly want to do the things in these thoughts.

Intrusive thoughts can cause anxiety because, unlike suicidal ideation, they are not something the person really wants to do. A person with suicidal ideation, however, may actually want his or her life to end.

Help for Suicidal Ideation

If you are not in immediate danger of hurting yourself, there are things you can do for passive suicidal ideation:

  • Contact a close friend, family member, or other trusted loved one. Talking about suicidal ideation can be difficult, but it is important for getting the help you need and deserve.

  • Contact a spiritual leader in your chosen faith, such as a minister or youth leader. Research suggests that involvement in a faith community can reduce suicide risk.

  • Remember that emotions change, and you may feel differently later. You can feel positive, happy emotions just as strongly as you feel sad, negative emotions.

  • Make an appointment with your primary healthcare provider or a therapist to discuss your mental health needs.

  • Remember that you are not alone, "crazy," or flawed. Many people have had suicidal ideation and go on to live fulfilling lives.

  • Make a list of things you are grateful for or things you would still like to do, accomplish, or enjoy in the future.

  • Consider that suicide is not the only solution to your problems. Intense emotional pain can distort our thinking, so give yourself time, and give your loved ones a chance to help.

Suicidal Ideation Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

Since both passive and active suicidal ideation increase the risk of death by suicide, it is important to address both types of ideation, especially if suicidal ideation in either form becomes chronic.

Contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Fear of being alone in case you attempt suicide

  • Increased consumption of drugs or alcohol, which can encourage risky behavior

  • Attempts to tie up loose ends in life, including giving things away

  • Feeling a need to say goodbye to loved ones

  • Thinking that an experience is happening for the last time

  • Developing an active plan for suicide

  • Acquiring items that could be used in suicide, such as firearms or medications

You don't have to struggle with suicidal ideation alone. Even when you feel lost or in pain, help is available.

To learn more about passive suicidal and intrusive thoughts visit our resource page. If you're feeling actively suicidal, please don't hesitate to call 1-800-273-8255 or visit For international suicide hotlines and resources, click here.

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Posted: 04 April 2019
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Emily Jacobs

Emily Jacobs is a freelance healthcare writer based in Toledo, Ohio.

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