Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Suicidal Ideation

If you or your loved one are struggling with suicidal ideation, Vermilion is here to help. Learning about suicidal ideation can help you or your loved one manage its symptoms.

Understanding Self-Harm

Learn about suicidal ideation

Suicidal ideation refers to the presence of an unusual preoccupation with death and suicide. Typically, people who experience chronic suicidal ideation do not intend to follow through on their thoughts. When someone is experiencing consistent thoughts of suicide, they are forming ideas, sometimes fleeting considerations and sometimes more thought-out plans, not actually participating in the act itself. Yet, the relentless existence of this ideation can ultimately result in an individual crossing the line and making the fatal decision to commit the act.  With proper care and treatment, suicide can be prevented, especially if people pay attention to the warning signs of suicidal thoughts.


Suicidal ideation statistics

As a result of the fact that suicidal ideation occurs in one’s own mind, it is nearly impossible to determine exactly how many people suffer from the plague of these types of ideas. However, it is estimated that, in the United States alone, someone attempts suicide every 38 seconds. Males are said to be four times more likely than females to actually complete the act of suicide, but females are believed to be much more susceptible to experiencing chronic suicidal ideation

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation

The causes and risk factors that may lead a person to experience the onset of suicidal ideation are believed by many in the field to be the result of a combination of physical, environmental, and genetic factors, as described in the following:

Genetic: Due to the fact that suicidal ideation is often symptomatic of a mental illness and mental illnesses are known to run in families, it can be hypothesized that there is a genetic link that increases one’s level of susceptibility to experiencing this type of preoccupation with death by suicide. Researchers at Harvard University found that more than 50% of individuals who were born to parents who suffered from depression also developed symptoms of the illness, including suicidal ideation, before reaching the age of 20.

Physical: Ideations of suicide can be symptomatic of changes in a person’s brain chemistry due to the fact that chemical imbalances are associated with the onset of mental illnesses. The most commonly noted chemical imbalance that is thought to lead to onset of suicidal ideation is decreased levels of serotonin.

Environmental: There are a wide array of environmental factors that can lead to the onset of suicidal ideation. For example, when a person is subjected to living in unhealthy, tumultuous homes, he or she is at a higher risk of developing maladaptive emotional and mental thoughts and behavior patterns as a result of the inability to control his or her inner emotional turmoil. In addition, experiencing certain life stressors or various traumas can lead to the onset of thoughts of suicide.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of depression or other mental illness
  • Knowing someone who has committed suicide
  • Personal history of depression or other mental illness
  • Exposure to violence
  • Being physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abused or neglected
  • Experiencing other forms of trauma
  • Losing a family member or loved one
  • Substance use and addiction

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

The way in which people may unconsciously be displaying signs that they are suffering from suicidal ideation will vary depending on such factors as the age of the person, the support system available to the person, the length of time that the person has had the thoughts, and the person’s individual temperament. The signs and symptoms that may indicate that a person is experiencing suicidal ideation may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • No longer participating in activities once enjoyed
  • Talking or writing about death / suicide
  • Isolating oneself from friends and family
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Self-injuring
  • Acting reckless / no longer caring about what can happen from participating in dangerous behaviors

Physical symptoms:

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Weight gain or weight loss as the result of changes in eating patterns
  • Noticeable changes in physical appearance

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Obsessive thoughts about death
  • Difficulty adhering to tasks at work / school

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feeling “trapped”
  • Feeling as though there is no purpose to life
  • Diminished self-esteem / self-worth
  • Oscillating mood patterns
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased agitation
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased depression
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness


Effects of suicidal ideation

The most obvious, and most concerning, effect of prolonged suicidal ideation is an individual acting on his or her thoughts and completing the act of suicide. However, this is not the only long-term effect of suffering from chronic suicidal ideation. The longer that these thought patterns persist, the more likely they are to intensify. As they continue to intensify, the more likely individuals are to begin experimenting with self-harming behaviors that could potentially lead to suicide attempts. Various examples of the different effects that can result from intentional or unintentional suicide attempts as a result of this self-harming behavior can include:

  • Broken bones
  • Excessive blood loss
  • Brain damage
  • Organ failure
  • Paralysis
  • Coma

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders

Suicidal ideation is very commonly a symptom of mental illness. As the mental illness begins to control one’s mind, the prevalence of these ideations can become increasingly exacerbated. The most common mental health disorders known to co-occur with suicidal ideation include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Schizophrenia