Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Suicidal thoughts are serious. Even when they’re only fleeting, they indicate that the person having them is in need of some relief. While there is no single cause of suicide, it always begins with a thought. But how do these thoughts develop?

The tragedy of suicide occurs every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34, and the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States. In many cases, those left behind wonder, “What did I miss, and what could I have done?” In other cases, there were clear warning signs, but no one knew when it was appropriate to intervene or how to approach the subject of suicide. The rising suicide rates among the youth in particular make it clear that we need to discuss it openly so we can deepen our understanding and save lives. Read on for more information about suicide causes, risk factors, and warning signs.

What causes suicidal thoughts?

Suicidal thoughts are serious. Even when they’re only fleeting, they indicate that the person having them is in need of some relief. While there is no single cause of suicide, it always begins with a thought. But how do these thoughts develop? So far, research has not led to a conclusive answer. Every person is different, but there are a few common triggers for suicidal thoughts. These include:

  • Depression and other mood disorders – Many mood disorders are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. When left untreated, these imbalances can result in feelings of hopelessness and despair. 
  • Grief and loss – When a person does not have the emotional capacity to cope with the death of a loved one, a traumatic situation, serious financial problems, or the end of a relationship, the distress can be overwhelming and may lead to thoughts of suicide. 
  • Certain medications – Some drugs have been known to cause suicidal ideation and an increased risk of suicidal behavior. 

It should be noted that effective mental health care, connectedness with others, and strong coping skills can decrease the risk of suicide, but there are also a number of factors that can increase the risk. 

Suicide risk factors 

Characteristics associated with suicide are known as risk factors. These may or may not be direct causes of suicide but could increase the risk. Many people who attempt suicide have a combination of risk factors that make them vulnerable. These may include: 

  • Prior suicide attempts
  • Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders
  • Family history of suicide
  • History of sexual or physical abuse
  • Substance use problems
  • Ready access to means of suicide (firearms, potentially lethal medication, etc)
  • Chronic pain
  • Impulsive tendencies
  • Prolonged stress resulting from prejudice, discrimination, harrassment, bullying, violence, or personal humiliation
  • Lack of access to behavioral health care
  • Local epidemic of suicide

Risk factors are not warning signs. They are indicators that help us understand what to address in a community or in an individual in order to prevent suicide. 

Suicide warning signs

Warning signs indicate that someone may be at immediate risk of suicide. Some people will  exhibit several warning signs while others will be more secretive and hide their suicidal thoughts carefully. In general, warning signs fall into three main categories: talk, behavior, and mood. Signs to watch out for include:

  • Talking of self-harm or suicide, wanting to die, or having no reason to live
  • Talking of being a burden to others or of feeling trapped
  • Talking of hopelessness or purposelessness
  • Researching suicide methods
  • Making preparations, accessing lethal means 
  • Withdrawing from activities and isolation from friends and family
  • Increased substance use
  • Calling or visiting to say good-bye
  • Giving away belongings 
  • Extreme mood changes 
  • Irritablity, agitation, or anger
  • Sudden improvement of mood symptoms

Behavior and mood changes are of particular concern when associated with a painful event, loss, or other potential precipitating factor. 

When to see a doctor

If you are in crisis and thinking about suicide or you are worried about someone else who is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (800-273-TALK) right away. Lifeline Center calls are free, confidential and available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Services are also available via web chat

Even if you’re not currently in crisis, it’s important to talk to someone you trust. This can be a family member, a friend, or a spiritual leader, someone who can make suggestions about how to manage your situation. Some people find that they’re more comfortable discussing their concerns with a doctor or mental health professional. A doctor can help determine if your suicidal thoughts are the result of a medication side-effect or some other underlying medical condition. Mental health practitioners are specifically trained to assess the severity of the risk and help patients develop a plan to keep them safe. This article from Psychology Today may be helpful in learning more about what happens when you mention suicide in therapy. 

Although it may be scary to reveal suicidal thoughts to anyone, staying silent could be dangerous. Talking with someone can help you feel more connected and provide you with solutions to finding relief from your pain. The more we talk openly, the more lives we save. 

If you are in immediate crisis, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (800-273-TALK). 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: