Suicidal Thoughts

A lot of people think about suicide or say things like, “I wish I was dead” at times of great stress. For most people these thoughts are a way to express anger, frustration, and other strong emotions. They may not, in and of themselves be a sign of a problem. Suicidal thoughts could be a signal for help, though, if they:

  • Don’t go away or occur often
  • Lead to suicidal threats, gestures, or attempts
  • Are a symptom of a medical illness or mental health condition such as:
    • Depression (see page 186). Up to 70% of persons who commit suicide are known to have suffered from depression right before their deaths.
    • Bipolar disorder (manic depression) – a mood disorder characterized by mood swings from elation and/or euphoria to severe depression. Suicide can take place during either the manic or depressive episodes.
    • Schizophrenia – a group of mental disorders in which there are severe disturbances in thinking, mood, and behavior. The sufferer experiences delusions, hallucinations, disordered thinking, and/or inappropriate emotions.
    • Grief/Bereavement (see page 198). The loss of a loved one may provoke thoughts of suicide. A person may find it hard to goon living without their loved one or may want to be with him or her in death.


  • Is more common in men than women. Men commit 4 times as many suicides as women.
  • Is attempted 3 times more often by women than men. Young women attempt suicide 4 to 8 times more often than young men.
  • Is committed more often by white men than by black men
  • Has the highest rate in adults over age 65
  • Is the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds behind accidents and homicide

Suicidal threats and attempts are a person’s way of letting others know that he or she is in need of attention or wants someone to help them. Suicide attempts and/or threats should never be taken lightly or taken only as a “bluff.” Most people who threaten and/or attempt suicide more than once usually succeed if they are not stopped.

Prevention and Treatment

Prevention and treatment include:

  • Knowing the warning signs for suicide (see “Questions to Ask” on page 215)
  • Taking courses that teach problem solving, coping skills, and suicide awareness in schools and in the community
  • Addressing and treating the emotional and/or physical problems that lead to thoughts and attempts of suicide such as:
    • Medical treatment for physical and/or mental health conditions such as depression. This includes monitoring medicine, if used.
  • Therapy such as individual and family counseling
  • Keeping firearms, drugs, and other means to commit suicide away from potential victims
  • Emergency care and hospitalization, if necessary, after an attempted suicide

Questions to Ask

{Note: In some suicides, no warning signs are shown or noticed.}

Are any of the following present?

  • Suicide attempts
  • Plans being made to commit suicide
  • Repeated thoughts of suicide or death

Yes: Seek Care


With thoughts of suicide or death, are any of these conditions present?

  • Depression
  • Manic depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Any other mental health or medical condition

Yes: See Doctor

Have thoughts of suicide come as a result of one of the following?

  • Taking, stopping, or changing the dose of a prescribed medicine
  • Using drugs and/or alcohol

Yes: See Doctor

Has there been a lot less interest or pleasure in almost all activities or a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day for at least 2 weeks? Or, have you been in a depressed mood most of the day nearly every day and have you had any of the following for at least 2 weeks?

  • Feeling slowed down or restless and unable to sit still
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Changes in appetite or weight loss or gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Problems concentrating, thinking, remembering, or making decisions
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or feeling tired all the time
  • Headaches
  • Other aches and pains
  • Digestive problems
  • Sexual problems
  • Feeling pessimistic or hopeless
  • Being anxious or worried

Yes: See Doctor

Does the person thinking about suicide have other blood relatives who committed or attempted suicide?
Yes: See Councelor

Has the person recently done 1 or more of the following?

  • Given away favorite things, cleaned the house, and gotten legal matters in order
  • Purchased or gotten a weapon or pills that could be used for suicide
  • Given repeated statements that indicate suicidal thoughts such as, “I want to be dead”, “I don’t want to live anymore,” or “How does a person leave their body to science?”
  • Made suicidal gestures such as standing on the edge of a bridge, cutting their wrists with a dull instrument, or driving recklessly on purpose

Yes: See Councelor

Have suicidal thoughts come as a result of an upset in life such as?

  • A separation
  • A divorce
  • The death of a loved one or other loss such as the loss of a job
  • A rejection
  • Being ridiculed

Yes: See Councelor

Provide Self-Care

Self-Care Tips

If you are having thoughts of suicide:

  • Let someone know. Talk to a trusted family member, friend, or teacher. If it is hard for you to talk directly to someone, write your thoughts down and let someone else read them.
  • Call your local crisis intervention or suicide prevention hotline. Look in your local phone book or call directory assistance or the operator for the number. Follow up with a visit to your doctor or local mental health center, if instructed to do so.

{Note: For information on suicide see “Places to Get Information & Help” under “Suicide ” on page 377.}

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021