Causes & Effects of Suicidal Ideation

Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation and get help for your child, teen, or young adult.

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

Certain mental health conditions are known to cause suicidal ideations for some people, as they are symptomatic of such conditions. Characterized by invasive and intrusive thoughts about death and dying, suicidal ideations occur when an individual experiences these thoughts and becomes preoccupied and/or obsessed with ending his or her own life. And while these ideations do not always infer a person has the intention of attempting suicide, treatment should be sought to care for these thoughts and any underlining mental health issues present. Failing to do so can result in self-harming behaviors and the possibility of suicide attempts if a person struggles with these thoughts over a prolonged period of time. Luckily, care is available for people, specifically children and adolescents, who are battling suicidal ideations, of which has proven effectiveness in addressing these thoughts and implementing new methods for coping with suicidal ideations and symptoms of many mental health conditions.


Suicidal ideation statistics

Since it is difficult to guesstimate the number of young people who experience ideations of suicide, research has instead provided statistics pertaining to suicide rates among children and adolescents, as these rates can suggest that these individuals were also experiencing suicidal ideations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among young people who are between the ages of 10 and 14. Additionally, death by suicide is now the third leading cause of death for adolescent individuals between the ages of 15 and 24. Lastly, it has also been estimated that a suicide occurs every 94 seconds and an attempt at suicide happens every 38 second in the United States.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation

Mental health professionals agree that the development of suicidal ideations is rooted in a person’s genetics, physiological influences, and environmental and other risk factors that can cause an individual to become preoccupied with death and dying. The following explanations elaborate on this belief and explain the causes and risks for suicidal ideation:

Genetic: While suicidal ideations are not known to be genetically inherited, the mental health disorders that can trigger them are known to be passed on from one’s biological parent or parents. For example, thoughts of suicide are known to occur when an individual is battling depression as the ongoing thoughts and feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness can cause a person to think about death and dying. Therefore, it can be said that if a person has a family history of mental illness in which suicidal ideations are a symptom, there is an increased likelihood that that individual will experience pervasive thoughts of suicide as well.

Physical: Ideations of suicide often suggest that a mental health condition is present. When this is the case, the presence of certain imbalanced chemicals within the brains of those suffering from mental health disorders have been found and can lead to the onset of ideations of suicide. More specifically, serotonin has been found to be imbalanced in those with mental health disorders, and this imbalance can impact the way in which a person’s mood is regulated. Many researchers believe that imbalanced serotonin levels can eventually cause a person to experience preoccupations with death and dying.

Environmental: Young people who are exposed to certain environmental influences or situations are vulnerable to the development of suicidal ideations. When an external stressor leads a child or adolescent to respond in an unhealthy manner, there is an increased risk that suicidal ideations can result. Youth with a history of abuse or neglect, or those who have had experiences in which their self-esteem or self-worth was harmed in any way have the potential to experience intrusive thoughts about death or dying.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of a mental health condition or conditions
  • Family history of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions
  • Being a victim of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse or neglect
  • Knowing someone who has attempted, or died by, suicide
  • Experiencing the loss of a loved one
  • Low self-esteem
  • Exposure to chronic stress or violence
  • Suffering from a degenerative or other severe medical condition

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

When an individual is struggling with suicidal ideations, it may not always be obvious to other people in that person’s life. If these thoughts continue for a long period of time, the signs and symptoms may become more apparent as suicidal ideations can begin to affect a person’s behavior, physical status, and interactions with others. If you feel your child is grappling with ideations of suicide, it is necessary to take note of the following signs and symptoms and discuss the presence of such thoughts with your child and seek care as soon as possible:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Giving away one’s possessions
  • No longer participating in things or activities that were once enjoyed
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Self-injury
  • Talking and/or writing about death and dying
  • Communicating feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Social withdrawal or isolation

Physical symptoms:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Noticeable weight gain or loss
  • Poor hygiene

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to retain short-term memories
  • Pervasive preoccupation with death and dying

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Elevated levels of anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Feeling of panic
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Declined interest in things or activities that were once enjoyed
  • Feeling as if one has no purpose


Effects of suicidal ideation

Children and adolescents who experience suicidal ideations over a long period of time are at risk for a number of adverse effects. The longer an individual grapples with these types of intrusive thought processes, the possibility of engaging in self-harm or attempting suicide goes up exponentially. When this is the case, the following are likely to occur as a result:

  • Paralysis
  • Brain damage
  • Failure of a specific organ
  • Failure of vital organs
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Excessive blood loss
  • Anemia
  • Permanent scarring
  • Coma
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders

Young people who experience ideations of suicide are often suffering from a mental health condition or conditions. The rationale behind this reasoning has to do with the fact that the development of suicidal ideations is often a symptom or effect of a number of mental health disorders. The following mental illnesses are those in which suicidal ideations could develop, or those in which ideations of suicide are symptomatic:

  • Specific phobia
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorders

I feel so much happier and healthier after getting help at Millcreek of Pontotoc.

– A former patient