Signs & Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation

Get in front of suicidal thoughts by learning their effects. Read what causes suicidal ideation, what signs to look out for, and potential co-occurring disorders. Suicidal ideation can affect our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Understanding your symptoms is the first step to successful healing.

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

Suicidal ideation is the term that is used by clinicians and other treatment professionals to describe having thoughts of ending your own life.

Suicidal ideation is not a form of mental illness, but it can be a symptom of a variety of mental health disorders. In some cases, suicidal ideation occurs in the aftermath of overwhelming stress or a traumatic event. In other cases, such thoughts develop in association with depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or several other mental health disorders.

No matter why you have been experiencing suicidal ideation, it is important to know that effective professional care can help you experience relief, both from the thoughts themselves and from the underlying cause of your emotional torment.


Statistics for suicidal ideation

Since suicidal ideation refers to thoughts, it is impossible to accurately document the number of people who have struggled with this problem. However, data collected by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) indicates the prevalence of suicidal thoughts:

  • More than 44,000 Americans end their own lives every year.
  • Experts estimate that for every completed suicide in the U.S., 25 others attempt to end their lives, but do not complete the act.
  • More than 490,000 people visit a hospital in the United States every year because of a self-inflicted injury.
  • The national suicide rate in the U.S. has increased every year for the past 10 years.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation

As indicated earlier on this page, suicidal ideation may be symptomatic of a mental health disorder. However, identifying the root cause of suicidal thoughts is a complex pursuit that may involve a variety of internal and external influences, often acting in combination. The following are among the many factors that can increase your risk for suicidal ideation:

  • Age (suicide in the United States is most common among adults between the ages of 45 and 65)
  • Gender (experts estimate that women experience suicidal ideation at a greater rate than men do; however, men die by suicide at a much higher rate than women do)
  • Family history of mental illness (especially anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and bipolar disorder among parents or siblings)
  • Personal history of mental illness and/or substance abuse
  • Enduring trauma such as the death of a loved one, the end of a significant relationship, or the loss of a job
  • Experiencing abuse and/or neglect during childhood
  • Insufficient stress management capabilities

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

A person who has been experiencing suicidal ideation may display a wide range of signs and symptoms, including but not limited to the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Pulling away from friends and family members
  • Talking or writing often about death and dying
  • Making statements that indicate a pervasive sense of helplessness and/or hopelessness
  • Reducing or ending involvement in significant events or activities
  • Acting with uncharacteristic recklessness and/or intentionally placing oneself in danger

Physical symptoms:

  • Sleeping excessively (hypersomnia) or having trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Heightened or diminished appetite, and resultant change in weight
  • Apparent neglect of grooming and personal hygiene
  • Uncharacteristic bursts of energy
  • Persistent fatigue, and/or lethargy

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Persistent thoughts of death and dying
  • Problems concentrating or focusing
  • Impaired memory

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Diminished self-esteem and/or self-worth
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Uncharacteristic outbursts of anger


Effects of suicidal ideation

The most obvious risk related to suicidal ideation is that these thoughts will lead to an actual suicide attempt. However, if you fail to get effective professional care to help you overcome thoughts of suicide, you may also expose yourself to a range of other negative outcomes, including but not limited to the following:

  • Self-harm
  • Permanent physical and/or cognitive damage
  • Diminished performance in school and/or at work
  • Academic failure
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Onset or exacerbation of mental health disorders
  • Diminished self-esteem
  • Persistent sense of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Social withdrawal and isolation

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideations & co-occurring disorders

As noted in other sections on this page, having suicidal thoughts may be an indication that you have developed a mental health disorder. The following are among the many forms of mental illness with symptoms that can include suicidal ideation:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Schizophrenia