Causes & Effects of Suicidal Ideation

At Covington Behavioral Health, we believe education is an important first step in the effort to heal from suicidal ideation. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of suicidal ideation can help you get the right type and level of care for yourself or a loved one.

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

Suicidal ideation is a serious condition that leads an individual to have intrusive and pervasive thoughts about suicide or death. These suicidal thoughts can range in severity, from simply thinking about death to actually imagining and planning a suicide attempt. Suicidal ideation does not always lead to an actual suicide attempt, but it should never be taken lightly and should be treated as soon as it begins.

Suicidal thoughts can be frightening and powerful. There are often a great number of underlying issues that cause these suicidal thoughts. Treatment for suicidal ideation should be geared toward uncovering these underlying issues and preventing a worst-case scenario. The good news is that wellness is possible.


Suicidal ideation statistics

Because suicidal ideation involves one’s private thoughts, it is very difficult to truly quantify any data about this symptom’s prevalence. The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that actual completed suicide attempts are the second leading cause of death for individuals under age 34. (Conditions such as heart disease and cancer take over as the leading causes of death for individuals over age 35.) Suicide is among the top ten causes of death for all individuals under age 65. Sadly, a suicide is completed every 94 seconds in the U.S.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation

Both environmental and genetic factors contribute to a person’s risk of developing suicidal ideation and the disorders that often accompany it. Some of these risk factors include:

Genetic: An individual’s risk of being diagnosed with a mental illness is largely affected by genetics. Suicidal ideation is often a symptom of an underlying mental health concern, so it is helpful to consider the risk of mental health disorders when an individual expresses suicidal ideation concerns.

Environmental: Traumatic stressors are particularly correlated with suicidal ideation. Other stressors in the environment, such as neglect, abuse, bullying, injury or accident, or exposure to others who have completed suicide all increase an individual’s suicide ideation risk.

In summary, risk factors include:

  • Exposure to violence or trauma
  • Having someone close commit suicide
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • History of neglect or abuse
  • History of abuse or neglect

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

Suicidal ideation is not always obvious. However, some of the following warning signs may indicate that an individual is experiencing suicidal ideation:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Isolation from others
  • Self-harm or self-injury
  • Giving away possessions
  • Avoiding activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Talking or writing about death
  • Discussing or sharing feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in appearance
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Changes in diet or eating habits
  • Changes in weight
  • Neglect of personal hygiene

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating or planning activities
  • Intrusive and persistent thoughts of suicide
  • Planning to commit suicide
  • Wishing to die or escape
  • Preoccupation with dying and death

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feelings of shame, hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Feelings of depression
  • Loss of pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
  • An unexpected, sudden change to positive mood (a serious warning sign that an individual has planned a suicide attempt)


Effects of suicidal ideation

If left untreated, suicidal ideation may lead to the devastating consequence of an actual suicide attempt. Attempted suicide is a devastating experience for both the individual and that person’s loved ones. Besides a successful suicide attempt, other concerns of untreated suicidal thinking include:

  • Conflicts in relationships
  • Loss of relationships
  • Missed work or job loss
  • Lowered social function
  • Financial concerns

If an individual attempts suicide (without completing suicide) the tragic repercussions may include:

  • Coma
  • Organ Damage
  • Scarring
  • Brain injury or cognitive damage
  • Paralysis

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders

The disorders that commonly co-occur with suicidal ideation include:

  • Eating disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Prior to treatment, my life was not only unmanageable, it was unlivable. Covington Behavioral Health Hospital helped provide me with a full, meaningful life. Thank you!

– a former patient
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