A Spectrum of Suicide Ideation:

The Difference Between Passive and Active Suicide Ideation

Warning: This article does discuss suicide ideation, suicide, and other triggering topics. Please leave the page if any of these topics will trigger or offend you.

Suicide is a very difficult topic to discuss. For me, it is one of the saddest things I could think of. My mind wanders to how the person must have been feeling and it causes my heart to break. Last year, someone that meant a lot to me took their own life. The following month was one of the most difficult periods of my life. 

I would like each of you to pay attention and take note of the key points that will follow. This article could help you identify loved ones who are at a greater risk of committing suicide. Unfortunately, we can not control the way others feel, but we can be there for them, take their feelings seriously, and advise them to speak with a professional.

What Is Suicide Ideation

Before beginning, let’s break the phrase, ‘suicide ideation’ down. Suicide is the act of taking one’s own life. Ideation contains the root word, ‘idea’. Ideation is the process of forming an idea. The term suicide ideation refers to the process of forming or considering a suicide plan

Suicide ideation can be different things for different people. In general, suicide ideation is thoughts regarding suicide. Although an individual truly considering suicide is unlikely to directly tell you, they may make statements that sound like the following.

  • I don’t care if I die.
  • One day, I’ll be gone.
  • What would you do if I were dead?
  • I probably won’t be here tomorrow.

These statements would understandably make you feel uncomfortable, worried, and/or sad, but you mustn’t shy away from the difficult conversation that may follow. Consider asking your loved one what they mean or to explain. Remind them that you are there for them and would love to discuss whatever may be bothering them. Suicide ideation is any thoughts or plans of suicide, but sometimes the earliest stages of suicide ideation are simply not caring or wanting to live anymore.

Passive vs Active Suicide Ideation

Two of the most common terms related to suicide ideation are active or passive. But it can be difficult to tell the difference between these stages. It is also important to note that every individual may feel different, experience different thoughts, or exist in a different phase of suicide ideation. I believe that there is a stage of suicide ideation that is not passive nor active. This stage is focused on the feelings that could lead to passive suicide ideation.

Before deciding that they no longer care about life, something must have happened, certain feelings had to be present. I believe this Pre-Suicide Ideation phase is accompanied by feelings of dread, hopelessness, despair, imprisonment, and/or loneliness. Eventually, these feelings could cause someone to feel as though life isn’t worth the pain anymore. 

Once those feelings add up and become increasingly overwhelming, the individual could decide that they no longer care or that life just isn’t worth it. At this point, it could be said that they are experiencing passive suicide ideation.

Passive Suicide Ideation

This ‘stage’ of suicide ideation is often referred to as ‘death ideation’. It is characterized by a wish to die, thoughts that they may be better off dead, or fantasizing about being dead. Often, individuals who exist in this stage of suicide ideation do not consider suicide every second of the day or even daily. The thoughts are often fleeting and they come and go.

Individuals in this phase may be creating plans for the future and even be curious as to what may happen next. But, at the same time, they struggle to find meaning and happiness in their life. Take a look at the examples of passive suicide ideation below.

  • Feeling like there is No Way Out
  • An Indifference to Life
  • Wishing to Die by Accident
  • Thoughtless, Reckless, and Dangerous Decision Making

As you can see, there are no active thoughts to take their own life, but there is a lack of respect towards their life and little to no interest in their safety.

Active Suicide Ideation

Active suicide ideation is what people typically picture when they hear the term suicide ideation. In this stage, suicide plans are being created, considered, or put in place. During this phase, individuals may appear to be feeling better, but this appearance is due to their belief that their pain is almost over. 

The risk of suicide is much higher during this stage than it is for someone experiencing passive suicide ideation. But, it is important to note that switching from passive to active suicide ideation can happen in mere moments. The following examples allow you a picture of what is happening during active suicide ideation.

  • Researching or Comparing Various Ways to take their Life
  • Acquiring any Necessary Items Needed to take their Life
  • Vague Goodbyes or Drafting a Suicide Note
  • Picturing or Envisioning the Moment they take their Life

As you can see, active suicide ideation is essentially preparing for the actual act of suicide. If you notice any of these signs you must tread carefully. Consider how the individual may be feeling. They are likely angry, terrified, overwhelmed by pain or loneliness, and even determined. A direct and explosive confrontation will not do you or them any good. Once this point has been reached the best thing you can do is bring in a professional. 

Suicide Ideation Risk Factors

Just like every other physical and mental health issue, there are risk factors. Therapists often use a Scale for Suicide Ideation to determine the risk of an individual completing or attempting suicide. But, many risk factors put an individual more at risk of suicide ideation

  • Insomnia and Other Sleeping Disorders
  • Depressive Mood Disorders
  • Anger Issues and Disorders
  • Childhood Abuse, Trauma, or Neglect
  • Low Self-Esteem, Rigid Thinking Processes, and Impulsivity
  • Previous Suicide Attempts
  • Other Mental Health Issues

Suicide Ideation and Suicide

If an individual is experiencing suicide ideation, it is possible that they may attempt to commit suicide. Not every individual experiencing suicide ideation takes their own life, but they are much more likely to commit suicide than someone who has never seriously considered it. 

If you are worried about a loved one, you could always talk to them. Discussing suicide will not put the idea into your loved one’s head, but it could show them that someone cares and prevent them from seriously considering the idea. It is also important to understand that your loved one is not crazy or insane for considering suicide as an option. 

They are feeling overwhelmed, brokenhearted, hopeless, or stuck. The best thing you can do for your loved one is show them that you care and offer a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. If the situation has progressed, you should consult a professional.

Suicide Prevention

If you or a loved one seems to be considering suicide please seek help. The situation can escalate quickly, especially if the individual is struggling with another mental health condition or experiencing overwhelming and difficult feelings or life situations. Check out the following links for more information regarding suicide prevention.

Published by alswartz

I am an aspiring novelist working on my first book. I have an interest in mental health and each of my works is related to mental health in some way.

One thought on “A Spectrum of Suicide Ideation:

  1. This is a good article. I think it’s important to identify those in passive si to prevent them from escalating. I agree it’s hard to talk to your loved ones but I am glad you focused on identifying and referral as the best way to help. Great post

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: