Signs & Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation

Learn more about the causes, symptoms, and effects of suicidal ideation. Understanding what you or your loved one is going through can be the first step to getting help.

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

Suicidal ideations are preoccupations with death and dying that are often intrusive and indicative of the presence of a mental illness. This type of maladaptive thinking typically occurs in response to stress and a person’s inability to cope effectively with said stress. Ideations of suicide can range in severity, from fleeting thoughts about death to well-thought-out plans for how a person would take his or her own life.

The presence of these thoughts do not explicitly infer that an individual will attempt suicide, however if a person battles ideations of suicide for a long period of time, the risk for suicide can go up exponentially. Those that are constantly preoccupied with their own death often turn to self-harming behaviors as a means of alleviating emotional turmoil and are at risk for substance abuse as well. If you, a friend, or family member is grappling with suicidal thoughts, it is crucial that mental healthcare be sought. There are treatment options available that can help alleviate this type of thinking and care for any existing mental health condition that could be causing distressing suicidal ideations.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation

There are several causes and risk factors that can increase a person’s vulnerability to the development of suicidal ideations. The following explain why and how a person can develop this type of maladaptive thinking and are widely accepted notions among professionals in the field of mental health:

Genetics: While suicidal ideations themselves are not heritable, the mental health conditions that are believed to cause them can, in fact, be inherited from one’s biological parents. Especially for those who have a family history of depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, the likelihood of a person battling suicidal ideations can be dependent on a person’s genetic history if mental illness is a factor. This type of genetic predisposition infers that ideations of suicide can be inadvertently heritable.

Physical: Researchers have deduced that those who struggle with suicidal ideations possess imbalanced neurochemicals in their brains. These chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters, have the duty of conveying messages throughout the body and regulating emotions and moods. When neurotransmitters have not achieved homeostasis, a person’s mood can become unstable, of which could elicit the diagnosis of a mental illness. When this is the case, suicidal ideations could form if said illness includes ideations of suicide as a symptom.

Environmental: There are several environmental influences that can cause a person to develop symptoms of a mental health condition, namely ideations of suicide. Experiencing ongoing stress, being the victim of a crime, abuse, and/or neglect, or losing a loved one due to suicide can cause a person to become depressed and potentially think about his or her own demise. Additionally, people who lack the necessary skills for coping with stress or those who lack adequate support from others are likely to develop suicidal ideations if high levels of stress are the norm for a person. Lastly, if an individual experiences the loss of a job, financial strain, or academic failure, suicidal ideations could manifest.

Risk Factors:

  • Poor support network
  • Homelessness / poverty
  • Being the victim of bullying
  • Being the victim of crime
  • Academic failure
  • Loss of employment
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Undiagnosed mental illness
  • Experiencing trauma, abuse, and/or neglect
  • Experiencing the loss of a friend or loved one
  • Personal history of substance use

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

Because ideations of suicide take place in the minds of sufferers, it is important to take note of other signs that suggest a person is having ongoing thoughts about death. The following are signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation and should be mentioned to a mental health professional if an evaluation is conducted to assess for psychiatric care needs:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Threats of self-injury
  • Use or abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Temperament changes
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Talking or writing about death and dying
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Decline in interest of things that were once enjoyed

Physical symptoms:

  • Weight loss or gain
  • Poor hygiene
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia or Hypersomnia

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Intrusive thoughts about death
  • Inability to fulfill roles and/or responsibilities
  • Lack of focus
  • Memory impairment
  • Inability to concentrate

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Shifts in mood
  • Hopeless or helpless feelings
  • Agitation
  • Elevated anxiety
  • Depressed mood


Effects of suicidal ideation

If suicidal ideations remain present for a long time, it is likely that an individual will act on these types of maladaptive thought processes. Suicide attempts are often made by those who battle suicidal ideation without intervention from mental health professionals. The following are potential effects that can occur if a person grapples with ideations of suicide; effects that can be prevented through effective mental health treatment:

  • Scars or permanent tissue damage
  • Recurring acts of self-harm
  • Brain damage
  • Paralysis
  • Coma
  • Hemorrhage
  • Broken bones
  • Organ damage or failure
  • Untimely death due to completed suicide attempt

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders

Ideations of suicide often suggest that a person is suffering from a mental health condition or conditions. The listed disorders are those that include suicidal ideation as a symptom and warrant the implementation of healthy coping skills in the event a person seeks mental healthcare for a mental illness or illnesses:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Body dysmorphic disorder

My severe depression had taken over my life. I’m so thankful for San Juan Capestrano Hospital for giving me the strength to start living my life again to the fullest.

– Luis S.