Suicidal ideation is a serious and complex mental condition that affects tens of thousands of Americans every year. Diagnosis and treatment require keen insight, attentiveness, swift assessment, and action. Alter Behavioral Health is dedicated to providing the best treatment for individuals who are dealing with suicidal thoughts.
What Is Suicidal Ideation?
Suicidal ideation refers to contemplating or planning suicide. With suicide defined as self-directed injury to the point of death, it is the most serious form of mental condition, making quick identification, assessment, and treatment critical.
Suicidal ideation can take two forms: passive or active. Passive suicidal ideation involves wishing to be dead without actively planning to commit suicide. Active suicidal ideation is a person’s serious conviction to plan and carry out their death.
A close look at suicide statistics for the US speaks volumes about the need to take suicidal thoughts seriously, focusing on compassion, getting individuals proper care, and destigmatizing the sense of shame that causes them to remain secretive about their suffering. In 2019, suicide had grown to be the tenth leading cause of death in the US, a tragic loss of more than 47,500 people.
While 80% of individuals who commit suicide are men, women ages 25-44 make up the majority of nonfatal attempts, and suicide cases in younger age groups have steadily been on the rise.
The number of cases of suicide among adolescents and young adults has tripled since 1955. In fact, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between 35 and 44.
What Causes Suicidal Ideation?
Suicidal ideation can be difficult to diagnose because numerous factors are at play. The more symptoms your loved one is suffering, the higher the risk they will escalate from thoughts to action. Suicidal thoughts can come at the onset of stressful life events, like a death in the family, a divorce, or recent unemployment, often accompanied by serious illness, like cancer or AIDS.
The severity of one’s suicidal thoughts is commonly linked to major depression and depression found in bipolar disorder. They can also worsen with other underlying psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and panic disorder. In a high number of serious cases, major depression and heavy alcohol consumption or substance abuse are involved.
Suicidal ideation is far more common than completed suicide. In 90% of completed suicides across all age groups, there were accompanying psychiatric disorders. The good news is that there are treatments for underlying mental disorders that can help reduce one’s desire to commit suicide, significantly reducing the risks.
What Are the Warning Signs of Suicidal Ideation?
If your loved one has been withdrawing from family and friends, buying pills, attempting to get prescriptions, expressing hopelessness and despair, suffering insomnia or restlessness, or has been uncommonly irritable, these are all warning signs of suicidal ideation.
Other indicators include abnormally heavy drinking or drug use, extreme mood swings, difficulty concentrating, and panic attacks. Suicidal thoughts may be fleeting or obsessive, but any outward signs should always be taken seriously. If a loved one has a mental disorder and has previously attempted suicide, it is especially important to pay attention to whether they are drinking heavily, talking about giving away sentimental items, or partaking in uncharacteristically risky behavior.
Risk Factors for Suicide
If your loved one has already been diagnosed with another psychiatric illness and/or substance abuse, they may be at higher immediate risk than others contemplating suicide. People who have attempted suicide in the past or have a history of suicide attempts in their family history are at a higher risk of harming themselves. Those suffering from severe depression who live alone after becoming widowed or divorced are also at a higher risk.
Access to firearms or medication that can cause a fatal overdose is particularly concerning for those showing symptoms of suicidal ideation.
Diagnosis of Suicidal Ideation
If you recognize signs that your loved one is suffering from suicidal ideation, you should compassionately encourage them to speak with one of our experts immediately.
Alter Behavioral Health will begin the healing process with a proper diagnosis. We’ll run a series of physical tests to isolate conditions that could contribute to suicidal thinking. We’ll talk at length with your loved one, asking questions to help clarify their condition.
Questions about their history of depression or other mental illness, abuse of substances, and the severity of their self-harming thoughts will allow us to develop a personalized treatment plan.
The proper course of action depends on your loved one’s openness during interviews, especially regarding whether they have contemplated a specific suicide plan, what medications they may be taking, and specific stressors contributing to an escalation in anxiety, irritability, and sleeplessness.
Depending on our assessment, we may find it is beneficial to include you in the questions or discussions, especially if they agree that family or friends will be a central support system in their healing or if they know you can contribute to giving an accurate history of their health.
Whether you’re seeking diagnosis or care for an existing diagnosis, Alter Behavioral Health is the place for you or your loved one.
Treatment for Suicidal Ideation
The severity of your loved one’s risk to themselves will help determine whether we recommend inpatient or outpatient treatment. If alcohol or substance abuse is involved, treatment will start with detoxification, followed by inpatient therapy and group therapy.
Psychotherapy will help uncover the reasons and possible stressors for their suicidal thoughts, including family history, traumatic events, and any known pre-existing mental disorders.
If your loved one has suicidal thoughts but is not seen as an immediate risk to themselves, we may start with outpatient psychotherapy, along with prescribing the right course of antidepressants, anti-psychotic, or anti-anxiety medication. We’ll begin meeting with family and friends, helping to educate you on becoming your loved one’s support system. We’ll also encourage a regimen of exercise and other healthy lifestyle changes known to bring a sense of calm and relief.
For patients who have been obsessing about their plans to commit suicide, have access to lethal means, are facing immediate stressors, or are exhibiting signs of other underlying mental disorders, we will immediately begin inpatient treatment. We’ll see that the patient is in a secure environment where they can be observed to prevent them from causing harm to themselves and alert family members to the severity of their condition.
Most likely over weeks, we’ll work with your loved one to uncover sources of anxiety and help equip them with the means to cope with their issues. We’ll observe how they’re progressing and whether adjustments need to be made to their medication, all under Alter’s controlled, safe environment until they are ready for continued outpatient psychotherapy.
The patient and family may agree with us in a personalized outpatient plan where your loved one is willing to commit to a “no-harm contract,” if they are honest about their condition and do not appear to be an immediate threat to themselves.
Outpatient care will consist of psychotherapy and finding the right medication regimen to treat their symptoms. We’ll work with them to develop impulse control and judgment and make sure they have a strong circle of emotional support — people who understand healthy ways to strengthen and encourage the patient.
Family and friends will participate in keeping their environment safe from weapons or any items that can trigger them to wish harm on themselves. Since medication can take weeks to make a profound difference, and even then may require adjustments, it’s important your loved one remains consistently present throughout their healing, attending their therapy sessions, working on healthy exercise and eating habits, and speaking openly and honestly about their condition.
Everything that a healthy person takes for granted can be hard work for a person suffering from suicidal thoughts, so it’s important for family members to remain an active extension to the work we do, helping nurse your loved one back to health.
Healing is a Phone Call Away
If you, or a loved one, are suffering from suicidal ideation, call a member of our compassionate team right away at 888-513-2965. We understand that things may seem hopeless. Rest assured that every human life is precious. And what you need is to be surrounded by caring professionals who understand what you are facing, will listen attentively to your pain, and help guide you towards a future filled with hope, joy, and peace of mind.