Suicidal ideation

Suicidal ideation is the clinical term for thinking of or imagining suicide.

Suicidal ideation can take many forms. Sometimes, it might be a vague thought of wishing to die. Other times, it can be very specific, such as forming a clear plan for suicide.

Although there are many warning signs of suicide, suicidal ideation is one of the clearest warning signs that a person may be in immediate danger of attempting suicide.

How common is suicidal ideation?

An international survey from the World Health Organization found that worldwide, about 2% of people surveyed had thought about suicide at least once in the past year.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that in 2017, about 4.3% of adults in the United States had thoughts of suicide.

Another study found that suicidal behaviors are generally more common among women, younger people, people with lower levels of education, and people who had been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

Who might experience suicidal ideation?

Suicidal ideation can happen in a very wide variety of circumstances.

It’s important to remember that suicidal ideation does not have one clear cause. Rather, it usually comes about as the result of a combination of different stresses and risk factors.

Some of the most common risk factors for suicidal ideation include:

Additionally, people with the following mental health conditions (among others) are at a greater risk of suicidal ideation:

What are other warning signs of suicide?

In addition to suicidal ideation, there are several other warning signs of suicide. Some of the most common include:

What should I do if I’m experiencing suicidal ideation?

If you (or a loved one) are experiencing suicidal ideation, the most important thing to do is seek help.

If you are in a life threatening situation, call the 24h National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255 or use these resources. If your issue is an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

If you have thoughts of suicide that are passive and that you do not plan to act upon, it is still important to seek help. Try drawing on the following resources:

What should I look for in a therapist for suicidal ideation?

The most important thing is to seek treatment immediately from a medical or psychiatric professional. Suicidal ideation can be dangerous in the short term, so it’s important to get the support you need.

In the long term, you may also want to work with a therapist to support your mental health needs going forward. In this case, you’ll want to make sure that your therapist is qualified to treat people who have experienced suicidal ideation. This will usually involve:

The particular kind of psychotherapy you choose will depend on your mental health overall, since different treatments are more effective for different disorders. For example, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) would be a good choice for someone with borderline personality disorder, but it would be less likely to work for someone with schizophrenia.

Finally, as with any therapy, it’s important to make sure that your therapist is a good fit for your unique needs. Be sure to evaluate the following in your initial calls with therapists: