Suicidal Ideation Signs & Symptoms

Characterized by the presence of invasive and intrusive thoughts about death, individuals who are suffering from suicidal ideation struggle with preoccupations regarding the ending of their own lives. Predominantly symptomatic of mental illness, the presence of suicidal ideation can be all-consuming and can overwhelm a child or adolescent’s life when appropriate therapeutic interventions are not sought and implemented. Suicidal ideation can range in severity from fleeting considerations to the development of detailed plans as to how one would end his or her life. It is important to note that the existence of suicidal ideation does not necessarily mean that one will follow through on his or her thoughts. That being said, however, the presence of such ideation should always be taken seriously because the line between thought and action can be crossed at any time.

Experiencing chronic thoughts of suicide can be a frightening experience for those children and adolescents who are afflicted by them. Fortunately, there are many treatment options available that can address the underlying reason for why the presence of these disturbing thoughts exist, while simultaneously help youth develop the healthy coping skills needed to overcome their suicidal ideation and rediscover an ability to achieve the happy lives they deserve to be living.

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Statistics

Statistics regarding the prevalence of suicidal ideation itself is difficult to obtain due to the fact that it is something that plagues a person’s mind. Instead, research has focused on the prevalence of suicidal behaviors amongst children and adolescents.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the fourth leading cause of death amongst youth who are between the ages of 10 and 14. For individuals between the ages of 15 and 24, suicide is estimated at being the third leading cause of death. Sadly, additional studies have shown that, in the United States alone, attempts at suicide are made every 38 seconds and a suicide is completed every 94 seconds.

Causes and Risk Factors for Suicidal Ideation

As was previously mentioned, the presence of ideations of suicide are typically indicative of the presence of a mental health condition. For this reason, when looking into the root causes and risk factors for why some individuals experience the onset of suicidal thoughts, one must also take into account the causes and risk factors that can elicit the manifestation of mental illnesses. Consider the following:

Genetic: Mental illnesses are known to run in families, leading to the conclusion that there is a strong genetic link to their onset. Illnesses such as bipolar disorder and depression are two conditions of which suicidal ideation is most commonly symptomatic and, when a child or adolescent possesses a family history of such mental health conditions, he or she is more susceptible to experiencing the onset of suicidal ideation as a result.

Environmental: There are certain environmental factors that can render children and adolescents more vulnerable to developing suicidal ideation. Perhaps one of the most predominant of such environmental circumstances is the exposure to completed acts of suicide. When youth have friends or family members who have committed suicide, they are at a significantly heightened risk of contemplating such actions themselves. Additionally, young people who are the victims of bullying or various types of abuse and/or neglect are believed to likewise be at an elevated risk for experiencing chronic ideations of suicide as they struggle to find ways to deal with the emotional turmoil that has resulted from such experiences.

Risk Factors:

  • Suffering from a mental health condition
  • Family history of bipolar disorder, depressive disorders, or other mental illnesses
  • Experiencing the death of a loved one
  • Being exposed to the act of suicide (whether it be an act that was done by a peer, a family member, or a celebrity whom the young person respected)
  • Being the victim of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse
  • Chronic exposure to violence
  • Being the victim of bullying

Signs and Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation

The presence of suicidal ideation can be difficult to determine as it is not uncommon for youth to keep such thoughts a secret from those around them. However, there may exist some warning signs that could possibly indicate the presence of ongoing ideations of suicide, of which may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Talking and/or writing about death
  • No longer participating in activities that one once enjoyed
  • Isolating oneself / alienating friends and family
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Making statements indicative of feelings of hopelessness and/or worthlessness
  • Giving away one’s possessions

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in physical appearance (e.g. no longer caring how one looks, poor hygiene, etc.)
  • Disturbances in sleeping patterns
  • Disturbances in eating patterns
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Suffering from panic attacks

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory disturbances
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Ongoing preoccupation with death and dying
  • Intrusive, unwanted thoughts about how one would end his or her own life

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Loss of interest in things one were once enjoyed
  • Elevated levels of anxiety
  • Extreme episodes of depression
  • Feelings of hopelessness / helplessness / worthlessness
  • Irrational feelings of shame
  • Feeling as though one has no purpose
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Suicidal Ideation

The longer that the all-consuming presence of suicidal ideation is allowed to exist, the more severe the thoughts will inevitably become, and the more susceptible children and adolescents are to begin engaging in self-harming behaviors or to make attempts at suicide. When such behaviors occur, the following adverse physical effects may potentially arise:

  • Organ failure
  • Paralysis
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Permanent scarring
  • Excessive blood loss
  • Anemia
  • Lapsing into a coma
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

The following disorders are those of which suicidal ideation is often symptomatic:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorders
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