Suicidal Ideation Causes & Effects

The signs, symptoms, and effects of suicidal ideations can look different for each person impacted. Learning about suicidal ideations is one of the first steps toward healing.

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

People who are experiencing suicidal ideation have pervasive and intrusive thoughts about death and ending their own lives. Suicidal ideation tends to occur alongside other mental illnesses and can range in severity. Some people with suicidal ideation experience brief, fleeting thoughts about ending their lives, while other people go so far as to develop detailed plans. While the presence of suicidal ideation does not necessarily mean a person will follow through on his or thoughts of suicide, it is important for someone experiencing these thoughts to receive professional help.

While experiencing suicidal thoughts can be a frightening experience, there are treatment options designed to help those struggling with these thoughts to find healing from the underlying conditions that may be causing them. With treatment, it is possible to prevent these suicidal thoughts from turning into actions.


Suicidal ideation statistics

While statistics on suicidal ideation can be difficult to find, it can be helpful to consider statistics about suicidal behaviors. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that, unfortunately, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds and the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds. Tragically, a suicide is completed every 94 seconds.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation

Most mental health disorders arise out of a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors, and suicidal ideation typically accompanies an underlying mental health disorder. As such, when considering the causes of suicidal ideation, it is helpful to consider the causes of mental illness in general, which can include:

Genetic: Mental illness is known to run in families. Children of parents with a mental illness are much more likely to experience a mental illness themselves than are children of parents without a history of mental illness. It can be said, therefore, that the risk of suicidal ideation increases if a person has a family history of mental illness.

Environmental: Along with genetic factors, certain environmental factors can increase a person’s chance of experiencing suicidal ideation. People who were exposed to completed acts of suicide, bullying, abuse, and neglect are all at an elevated risk of suicidal ideation.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Exposure to completed suicide
  • Being the victim of abuse or neglect
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Chronic exposure to violence

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

Because suicidal ideation is an inherently personal process, it can be difficult to determine if a loved one is experiencing it. However, the following may be warning signs that a loved one is having thoughts of suicide:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Giving away one’s possessions
  • Engaging in self-harm
  • Avoiding activities that one used to enjoy
  • Isolating oneself
  • Talking or writing about death
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or worthless

Physical symptoms:

  • Weight fluctuations
  • Changes in appetite or eating patterns
  • Problems sleeping or changes in sleep habits
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Poor hygiene

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Intrusive or persistent thoughts about death or suicide
  • Planning to take one’s life
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Preoccupation with death or dying

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Sudden shift to a positive mood (may indicate decision to attempt suicide)
  • Loss of ability to experience pleasure
  • Anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless, ashamed, or purposeless


Effects of suicidal ideation

If left untreated, suicidal ideation can become more severe and may even result in a suicide attempt. Other effects may include:

  • Dissolution of social relationships or relationships with significant others
  • Social withdrawal
  • Poor performance at work
  • Job loss
  • Financial difficulties
  • Worsening mental health and emotional wellbeing

People who attempt suicide may experience a number of long-term effects, such as:

  • Organ damage
  • Paralysis
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Scarring
  • Coma

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders

Suicidal ideation is often symptomatic of a number of mental illnesses, some of which include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders

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