Causes & Effects of Suicidal Ideation

No one experiences suicidal ideation the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of suicidal ideation is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

Suicidal ideation can be defined as one’s thoughts or ideas that are related to the act of ending one’s own life. This range of thought can include anything from well laid-out plans that are meant to succeed, to fleeting thoughts with threats of making an attempt. The adolescent years can be a difficult and confusing time, and many troubled teens have had a suicidal thought at some point in their lives. However, it is important to note that these young people are not actually wanting to die, they are crying out for help. In most instances, young people with suicidal thoughts are unable to see any other way to end the emotional pain or turmoil they are experiencing. They have come to a point where they are no longer able to deal with current feelings, stressors, or thoughts they may have.

Children or adolescents who have been contemplating suicide may talk about ending their life and tend to also display a preoccupation with death and dying. They may begin to have problems sleeping or eating, and their physical appearance may drastically change. Additionally, young people who are struggling with thoughts of suicide tend to engage in unnecessary risky behavior without thinking of the consequences beforehand. In some instances, this may take the form of the consumption of drugs and/or alcohol, however, it can also include engaging in self-harming behaviors or acting out aggressively, such as by destroying property. All of these behavioral changes, in addition to the emotional struggles these young people are facing, can cause them to begin to fail at school, blow off responsibilities at home, and lead them to pull away from those closest to them. While during this time things may seem grim, there is hope for the future. Proper treatment can help these young individuals move past their suicidal thoughts and go on to enjoy life once again.


Suicidal ideation statistics

It has been estimated that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 14 and the third leading cause among those who are between 15 and 24 years old. More specifically, it is said that for every completed suicide, there are around 25 suicide attempts. Additionally, some research has found that about 94 suicides occur each day in the United States and that one person attempts suicide every 38 seconds.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation

The U.S. Surgeon General says that approximately 90% of children and adolescents who commit suicide suffer from some form of mental health disorder, such as depression. Suicidal thoughts and actions can arise from stress, pressure to succeed, self-doubt, or family strife, such as parental divorce. However, the exact reason for why certain young people will develop suicidal thoughts is not very well understood. Some of the contributing factors may include:

Genetic: Research has shown that suicidal thoughts or, more specifically, mental health disorders like depression, which is associated with suicidal ideation, tend to be passed down by family members. Children who have family members with depression are more than 50% likely to struggle with suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Physical: As was previously mentioned, those who are struggling with thoughts of suicide are most often suffering from the presence of a mental health disorder. Many different types of mental health disorders are known to cause chemical imbalances in the brain that can be the cause for the development of this suicidal thinking. Additionally, suicidal ideation may be linked to low levels of serotonin.

Environmental: Suicidal ideation in children and adolescents tends to follow the occurrence of a stressful life event. Certain life circumstances, such as being physically and/or sexually abused, or being the victim of a violent crime, can increase a young person’s likelihood for developing thoughts of suicide. Other factors can include being the victim of bullying, being diagnosed with a serious medical illness, or experiencing problems at home can all put a child at risk for developing suicidal ideation.

Risk Factors:

  • Has been the victim of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse and/or neglect
  • Dietary or hormonal problems
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Has been adopted
  • Loss of, or conflict with, close friends or family members
  • Knowing someone who has died by suicide
  • Has previously attempted suicide
  • Suffering from severe anxiety or severe depression
  • Chronic medical condition
  • Being bullied
  • Problems with drugs or alcohol

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

It is extremely important to take the warning signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation seriously and to seek treatment immediately if you believe that a young person is actively suicidal. Not all children who are thinking about suicide are going to display the exact same warning signs; it is going to depend upon each specific child and the situation at hand. However, some of the most common warnings signs that you should watch out for include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • No longer participating in activities one used to enjoy
  • Has begun having problems at school (academically and/or socially)
  • Has begun using drugs and/or alcohol
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Talking and/or writing about death
  • Increased participation in risky activities
  • Is giving away or throwing out possessions

Physical symptoms:

  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Aches and pains
  • Has begun to neglect hygiene and physical appearance
  • Chronic panic attacks

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Hard time concentrating and paying attention
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Impaired short-term memory

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Does not respond to praise like one previously did
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Feeling as though there is no hope for the future or that there is no point to living
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of helplessness


Effects of suicidal ideation

If suicidal thoughts are not addressed, the emotional toll that they can take on a young person can be extensive. In some instances, the adolescents have become so wrapped up in their suicidal thoughts that they have troubling functioning on a daily basis. Additionally, in instances where a thought became an action, it has the potential to leave permanent scars or debilitating injuries. The following is a list of things that can occur if suicidal ideation is not properly treated:

  • Organ failure
  • Brain damage
  • Permanent scars
  • Paralysis
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Total organ failure
  • Excessive blood loss
  • Broken bones
  • Hospitalization
  • Multiple surgeries
  • Coma
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders

A young person who is experiencing ongoing thoughts about suicide tends to be suffering from the presence of a mental health disorder. Some of the following disorders may be present in children and adolescents who are struggling with thoughts about ending their life:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
What Past Clients Say

A very good friend recommended the Institute and it turned out to be the best thing we could have done for our son. Even if it’s hard as a parent to send your child away for treatment, remember it’s the best thing for their health and happiness.

– Parent of a former client