Anyone who has any thoughts of suicide may be in crisis. But the type of suicidal thoughts a person has can indicate how much danger they’re in.
Clinicians and other experts sometimes classify suicidal thoughts into two categories: passive and active.
Understanding the difference between passive and active suicidal ideation helps professionals assess a person’s risk for attempting to end their life. It also helps them determine which types of treatment may be most effective.
What Is Suicidal Ideation?
Suicidal ideation is the clinical term for thoughts of suicide. People can have these types of thoughts for several reasons.
In some cases, suicidal ideation is a symptom of a mental health disorder. Depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder are examples of mental health concerns whose symptoms and effects can include suicidal ideation.
Substance use disorders, have also been associated with an increased risk for suicidal ideation. The likelihood of suicidal thoughts may be even higher among people who have both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder, a condition that is known as dual diagnosis.
Although suicidal ideation is often a symptom or effect of a mental illness, this is not always the case.
People may also have thoughts of suicide in the immediate aftermath of a significant loss, such as the end of an important relationship, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job. Prolonged bullying or other types of harassment, poor stress management skills, and exposure to overwhelming pressure can also precede thoughts of suicide.
Symptoms of Passive Suicidal Ideation
People who have been having passive suicidal ideation have been thinking about ending their lives, but they have not developed a specific plan for doing so. Passive suicidal ideation may also involve the following symptoms:
- Wishing they could fall asleep and never wake up.
- Having little hope for the future.
- Thinking that life is not worth living.
- Feeling rejected by or distant from others.
- Lacking a sense of purpose or motivation.
- Engaging in risky or reckless behaviors.
- Cutting, burning, or otherwise harming themselves.
People who experience passive suicidal ideation may not be at imminent risk for ending their lives. But this does not mean that they are immune to more serious thoughts or more dangerous behaviors. Passive suicidal ideation can quickly transform into active suicidal ideation.
Warning Signs of Active Suicidal Ideation
People who are experiencing active suicidal ideation have developed a plan for ending their own life. The following behaviors may be warning signs that a person is actively thinking about suicide:
- Frequently talking about death and dying.
- Stating that the world would be a better place if they weren’t around.
- Withdrawing from their family members and friends.
- Sleeping much more or much less than usual.
- Giving away valued personal possessions.
- Purchasing a firearm or amassing a lethal amount of drugs.
- Suddenly seeming to be serene and relaxed after an extended period of despair.
It can be extremely difficult to determine if someone you care about has been struggling with passive or active suicidal ideation. If you think someone in your life is at risk, please don’t ignore your feelings.
In cases where you fear that a person is in immediate danger of suicide, call 911, summon a local emergency responder, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (988 or 1-800-273-8255).
Are Passive & Active Suicidal Ideation Common?
Since passive and active suicidal ideation refer to thoughts, it is difficult to accurately determine how many people have experienced them.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided the following statistics about suicide in the United States. These statistics include suicide attempts and an estimate of the prevalence of suicidal ideation:
- From 2000-2018, the annual suicide rate in the U.S. increased by 30%.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death for adults ages 25-34.
- In 2020, about 1.2 million Americans attempted suicide and almost 50,000 people died by suicide.
- Experts estimate that more than 12 million American adults seriously considered ending their own lives in 2020.
- Research indicates that more than 3 million Americans made a suicide plan in 2020.
The CDC has also reported that there were 1,491 deaths by suicide in Georgia in 2020. This represented a slight decrease from 2018 and 2019. During each of those years, there were more than 1,500 deaths by suicide in Georgia.
Treatment Options for Passive & Active Suicidal Ideation
Suicidal ideation does not occur in a vacuum. Whether a person has been dealing with a mental health disorder or experiencing overwhelming emotional pain, it’s important that treatment addresses the underlying cause of their suicidal thoughts.
Knowing the difference between passive and active suicidal ideation can help a person get the type and level of care that’s best for them. Depending on a variety of personal factors, that help may include prescription medication and several types of therapy.
- Certain prescription medications can ease the symptoms of anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and other mental illnesses that are associated with an increased risk of suicide. When combined with therapy, medication may be helpful in the effort to eliminate suicidal thoughts.
- Individual therapy can help people identify self-defeating responses and replace them with healthier ways of thinking and acting. Individual sessions are safe spaces where people can talk about issues, worries, or fears that they would be uncomfortable addressing in a group environment.
- Group therapy can demonstrate to people that they are not alone. Groups can also help people practice problem solving and conflict resolution strategies. During groups, participants can learn how to effectively express their needs and ask for help.
- Family programming can teach individuals and their loved ones how to recognize warning signs and better support each other. Developing a functional support system can be a vital tool in the effort to reduce a person’s risk of suicide.
Treatment can also connect people with community-based resources that can support them if they experience suicidal thoughts in the future. Treatment may be a short-term experience, but the information a person receives and the skills they develop can yield long-term benefits.
Begin Treatment for Suicidal Ideation in Atlanta
If you have been having thoughts of suicide, please know that help is available. At Peachtree Wellness Solutions in Atlanta, Georgia, you can receive compassionate care in a safe and highly supportive environment. Here, you can learn to manage your symptoms and rediscover your hope for a brighter tomorrow. Contact us today to learn more.