How serious are suicidal thoughts? And what can we do about them?
Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that seem to pop into your head at the most random times, and they are typically perceived as odd, taboo, or scary. These types of thoughts are seen in several different types of mental health disorders when they begin to cause significant distress. Intrusive thoughts that are stressful but not distressing are common even in those who do not meet a mental health disorder criteria. If we are healthy and well, we can dismiss intrusive thoughts as just that, intrusive. If we struggle with high levels of anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, we may have a more challenging time dismissing the thought.
With suicidal thoughts, the focus of the intrusive thoughts is about dying, killing oneself, or not existing any longer. Typically, these types of ideas come from feeling sad most days, social isolation, loss of interest in things that you used to enjoy, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, as well as changes in sleep and eating habits. All of these symptoms are present in depression. There are times when stressful situations can cause depression or suicidal thoughts for extended periods. These thoughts can be overwhelming and distressing, and often there is a need to reach out and seek support.
Anxiety and Suicidal Thoughts
There are times when a person’s anxiety presents as the primary motivation for intrusive and suicidal thoughts. Anxiety is the cognitive and emotional alarm system that tells us that we are in danger. Those who live with significant anxiety levels for extended periods are often in survival mode and may have adjusted to manage their lives minimally while living with the symptoms. Over time this can also lead to depression and suicidal thinking and is referred to as “smiling depression” or “functional depression.” Although the more innocuous name may sound like the symptoms and experience would not be as severe, this type of depression is just as painful to the person experiencing it.
Suicidal thoughts are categorized per their level of severity. Passive suicidal thinking describes thoughts of not waking up, not existing, or disappearing, and when it is not paired with a plan or means, it is considered less dangerous. Suicidal thoughts that are more active with content related to more specific thoughts of dying are considered more complex and may warrant immediate or emergency care. Detailed suicidal thoughts, combined with a plan and means to complete, are considered highly dangerous and are grounds for direct and emergency care.
Thoughts about self-harm or mutilation are not considered as dangerous as suicidal thoughts. Still, a medical professional should monitor these thoughts and behaviors as they may indicate mental health issues and lead to increased physical damage, scarring, and possible accidental death. Support for those who experience distressing suicidal thoughts is abundant and accessible, but it requires asking for assistance from a medical professional.
How to access support for suicidal thoughts
- Talk to someone you can trust. When you are experiencing suicidal thoughts that are distressing or increasing in severity, reach out to someone. When we are depressed, we may isolate ourselves or feel that others can’t be bothered with us. We may feel as though we are not important to our friends and family but be assured that you are important and your distress is important to those who love you. When you feel like you shouldn’t bother others, this is the most crucial time to reach out.
- If you are having passive suicidal thoughts or do not have suicidal thoughts as well as a plan or means, then you should make an appointment with a therapist as soon as you can. No matter how busy a therapist’s office is, if you tell them you have suicidal thoughts when you call, they will find a way to get you the help you need. You will often get an appointment in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours.
- If you are thinking of killing yourself and have a plan and means, make an appointment with your doctor, walk into an urgent care clinic or go to the emergency room. You may think that this is just your feelings and that it is THAT serious. But it absolutely is serious, and you are important. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and it is something to be taken very seriously.
- Talk to a medical professional about how long you have been feeling the way you are feeling. Tell them how often you feel sad, anxious, or hopeless. Make sure that you tell them about your suicidal thoughts and if you have a plan or means. It may be scary to tell someone about all of this, but every medical professional has taken a vow to protect you as best they can, and they will make sure that they get you the help and support you need.
- But then what? After you talk with a medical professional, they will ensure that you are safe, stabilized, and have follow-up care. This could look like hospitalization until you are stabilized or discharged to a trusted person and an appointment with a therapist or a treatment program to follow up in the next few days. Medication to help support you during this time may be prescribed.
- To start healing, make sure that you follow up with your therapist. Following through with any medication that your doctor prescribes and meeting with your therapist as often as recommended are both essential for you to feel better and get back to normal. Talking to a therapist can seem intimidating if you have never been to therapy before. Be assured that therapy is an accepting and non-judgemental space. Therapists are trained to support you as you make changes to reach your goals.
If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, it is essential to take this seriously and discuss that support. It can be frightening to have intrusive thoughts about hurting or killing yourself but remember that you do not have to manage these thoughts and emotions alone. Many people can help and lots of resources for those who are struggling. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open twenty-four hours, seven days a week. It is a toll-free hotline with the number 1-800-273-8255 that can connect you to a crisis center, mental health provider, or medical professional in your area.
New Dimensions Can Help!
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.