Sometimes feelings of despair and sadness become so strong that they start to feel unbearable. And when negative thoughts and emotional pain become too much, suicide may feel like the only escape. But these feelings aren’t something you have to deal with alone. With the proper treatment and support, suicidal thoughts can be relieved, and you can go back to living a happy and fulfilled life.
If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, it’s crucial to get professional mental health support as soon as possible. It’s essential to understand suicidal ideation, when to seek treatment for suicidal thoughts, and how to support a loved one through this difficult time.
Understanding Suicidal Ideation
Suicidal ideation is the technical term for having thoughts or ideas of ending your own life. Passive suicidal ideation is having suicidal thoughts without actually going through with them. Active suicidal ideation is when the concept of suicide turns into actively making plans to die by suicide.
The reasons for suicidal thoughts vary. Some factors can put people at greater risk of suicidal ideation, from gender and ethnicity issues to underlying mental health concerns. Julie D. Eberwein, executive director at Integrative Life Center, noted that multiple factors contribute to thoughts of suicide, including the below.
Contributing factors to suicidal ideation include:
- Socioeconomic status
- Mental health issues
- Substance use problems
- Medical conditions
- Grief and loss
- Low self-esteem
- Relationship problems
- Employment difficulties
- Family conflicts
When to Seek Treatment for Suicidal Thoughts
Suicidal ideation doesn’t always result in a person acting on those ideas. But if you have any suicidal thoughts, it’s crucial to seek help as soon as possible.
Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation aren’t always obvious and vary between people. Below are some common warning signs of suicidal thoughts.
Indicators of suicidal ideation include:
- Feelings of despair or worthlessness
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of personal care (appearance and hygiene)
- Lost interest in hobbies and activities
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Changes in diet
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Mood swings and poor emotional regulation
- Increased irritability or agitation
- Dangerous or self-destructive behaviors
- Increased substance use
- Physical self-harm
More imminent suicide warning signs are:
- Threatening suicide
- Often talking about death or dying
- Making a plan of how to die
- Accessing a way to end life
- Saying goodbyes
- Giving away valued possessions
Julie said, “If there is an imminent risk of harm to self, treatment needs to be initiated through mobile crisis services or the local emergency room.”
Active ideation is a more immediate and urgent risk than passive ideation. But both types of suicidal thoughts can have major negative effects on your everyday life. Passive ideation can also turn into active ideation if left untreated. Julie said anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should seek mental health care immediately.
Supporting a Loved One Who has Suicidal Thoughts
The first step in supporting a loved one who may be having suicidal thoughts is encouraging them to talk about their feelings. If you’re unsure of what your loved one is going through, it’s vital to ask them directly if they:
- Are having suicidal thoughts/ideas
- Have a suicide plan
- Have access to lethal means
“You have to have the confidence that asking these direct questions will not increase the person’s suicidal thoughts,” Julie said. “It will give you information that indicates how strongly the person has thought about killing themselves.”
Julie noted that if you think the person might harm themself, do not leave them alone. Instead, remove any potentially lethal items from the vicinity and seek professional help immediately.
If your loved one doesn’t have immediate plans of suicide, it’s still crucial to offer support. You should find the right help as soon as possible.
Other ways to support a loved one with suicidal thoughts are:
- Educate yourself with these suicide prevention resources
- Recognize warning signs of the worsening condition
- Know the risk factors for suicide
- Be aware of any self-harm clues
- Be there for them
- Help create a low-stress environment
- Encourage them to talk to you about their feelings
- Let them know that support is available
- Help them find treatment
Maintaining an approach rooted in care and compassion is of critical importance when supporting a loved one experiencing thoughts of suicide, Julie said.
When talking with your loved one about suicide, be patient, listen compassionately, and try to empathize with them. Let them know that you care and you are there to support them no matter what. Don’t victim-blame, judge, or make negative or unhelpful comments that might make them feel worse. Respect and reassurance are key.
Treatments to Help Reduce Suicidal Thoughts
Suicidal ideation usually won’t go away on its own. But with professional help, it is treatable, and you can go back to living a happy and fulfilled life.
The first step in treatment for suicidal thoughts is assessing for underlying mental health disorders. Mood disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, are strongly linked to suicidal ideation — especially if left untreated. Depression treatment and suicide treatment work best when combined into one customized holistic care plan.
The proper treatment plan for suicidal thoughts also depends on whether the ideation is passive or active. High-risk active suicide ideation may require a stay at an inpatient facility. You can be cared for and watched at this facility until you’re well again. You can usually treat lower-risk, passive suicidal ideation with outpatient therapies and support groups.
Therapies for suicidal thoughts include:
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). A psychotherapy that teaches you skills and strategies to help regulate your emotions, tolerate distress, and be more mindful.
- Integrated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (I-CBT). Increases awareness of unhealthy emotional reactions and helps you develop healthier responses by changing your overall process of thinking. Expands on regular CBT by adding elements of mindfulness.
- Trauma-Informed Therapy. Helps you acknowledge and overcome traumatic experiences that may contribute to mental health issues and suicidal thoughts.
- Attachment-Based Family Therapy. An emotion-based therapy used to rebuild secure relationships between family members. Common in adolescents.
- Experiential Therapies. Art, music, and equine therapies, along with other experiential treatments, can work in conjunction with the above modalities to help treat suicidal thoughts.
Compassionate engagement in suicide treatment is critical, according to Julie.
“Once engaged, it is imperative that trust is fostered so that the therapeutic relationship can be experienced by the individual as valued, supported, seen, and heard,” she said. “This foundation will allow the individual to engage in interventions that increase protective factors and reduce risk factors.”
If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, Integrative Life Center’s suicide treatment program can help.
At ILC, we start with a medical assessment that helps determine what type of interventions might best serve you. We believe there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for suicidal thoughts. Every person and situation is different.
Our professional counselors and therapists create specifically-tailored treatment plans to treat suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders. We can help you regain control of your thoughts and life once again through our heart-centered approach experienced through a combination of integrative and holistic therapies.
Contact Integrative Life Center today to start discussing your options.