Dealing with suicidal ideation isn’t uncommon, but because it’s so difficult to talk about, a lot of people have misconceptions about what it’s like, and what it is and isn’t.
Having persistent thoughts of suicide is known as suicidal ideation. People can have passive suicidal ideation – feeling like they want to die but not acting on it – or active suicidal ideation, which, like it sounds, includes making plans.
1. Suicidal ideation isn’t always about wanting to die — it’s a lot more complicated than that.
It can be feeling like you don’t have another way to make the pain stop or hopelessness about the future. It can be indifference about life or the hope that an accident or disease takes the choice out of your hands. It can be about making reckless or self-sabotaging decisions. Everyone experiences it differently.
2. Not everyone who deals with suicidal thoughts is an active suicide risk.
When we talk about suicidal thoughts, a lot of people imagine it means someone is standing on a proverbial ledge. But suicidality exists on a spectrum, and passive suicidal ideation — meaning chronically not wanting to be alive, but not necessarily actively wanting to die — is a thing people often forget about.
3. Plenty of people function day-to-day despite having suicidal ideation, so never assume you can tell what someone is going through.
For some, suicidal ideation is as ordinary as feeling hungry or tired. It gnaws at you, but you carry on anyway.
4. But that doesn’t mean it’s not exhausting, scary, or intense to deal with.
You can still struggle and need help and support even if you’re not an active risk for suicide — in fact, getting that help and support early is one of the important ways to lessen the chance of reaching the point when suicide becomes a real option.
5. You don’t always “get over” dealing with suicidal ideation — plenty of people have developed ways to manage it.
Like many mental illnesses, suicidal thoughts can be something you live with and adapt to with proper treatment and support. You come up with an arsenal of coping skills, develop emergency plans, and learn how to identify signs that you need to reach out for help.
6. It can affect all kinds of people, no matter their gender, age, or life circumstances.
You don’t need a “reason” to feel suicidal and it can impact you no matter how “good” you have it. Mental illness does not discriminate.
7. That said, some people feel suicidal as a direct result of a traumatic or distressing event.
Grief, abuse, financial problems, remorse, rejection, a breakup, and unemployment are all possible triggers for suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts.
8. And ideation can come on suddenly and unexpectedly and feel entirely out of character.
Not everyone’s suicidal thoughts are chronic or familiar — and if they hit when you’ve never had thoughts of that nature, it can be petrifying.
9. Hearing people talk about how suicide is selfish or cowardly is incredibly hurtful — and also factually incorrect.
There’s no way to know what it’s like to feel so hopeless that death seems like the only option unless you have been there — and if you have, you know there’s nothing selfish or cowardly about it.
10. Suicide attempts don’t have to be brought on by a “tipping point” or something that “pushed them over the edge.”
Suicide attempts can seem sudden and out of nowhere from the outside, and people often assume there must be a tangible reason, but a lot of the time it’s more complicated than that. Attempts happen when someone feels like they no longer can cope with an overwhelming situation or feelings.
11. Getting therapy or medication isn’t a magic fix — so encouragements to “get help” can be a little demoralizing.
Yes, help is absolutely necessary and can save lives. But taking the first step to reach out isn’t the only difficult part of the process. Healing from or learning to manage suicidal thoughts takes a lot of time and work, so don’t assume that because someone is suicidal it’s because they haven’t sought help.
12. On that note, there are different and sometimes better ways to help someone than sharing suicide lifelines.
People share suicide lifelines with the best of intentions — but if you think someone is struggling, reach out. Ask them how you can be supportive. Tell them you care about them. Real contact and compassion can go a lot further than seeing hotline numbers tossed into the void.
13. Telling people that they have ~so much to live for~ isn’t helpful.
It just reads as, “You’re wrong to feel this way.” Same with asking them to imagine how hurt their loved ones will be. All that kind of talk does is add more pressure, guilt, and hopelessness.
14. Talking about suicide doesn’t increase the risk or “give people ideas.”
There’s this misconception that talking about suicide will lead to suicide, but suicidal ideation is bred in isolation. Those conversations aren’t easy — but it’s so important to be able to have an open dialogue and ask the hard questions.
15. In general, dealing with suicidal ideation is a lot more common than you might think it is.
Obviously, it’s comforting to think of suicidal ideation as a distant, theoretical thing that happens to other people and not anyone you know. But the more you realize that people around you — people close to you, even — could be dealing with this without you knowing, the more we can normalize talking about it. And the more we can talk about it, the closer we are to making sure no one has to suffer alone.