Suicidal Thoughts Symptoms & Effects

Learn how to recognize the signs, symptoms, and effects of suicidal ideation. Resource Treatment Center provides comprehensive mental health and psychiatric treatment for youth who are suffering from suicidal ideation.

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

Suicidal ideation is a term that refers to the presence of pervasive and obsessive thoughts about how one would end his or her own life. The severity of these thoughts will vary from fleeting considerations without having any actual intent on following through on the thoughts to the development of detailed plans where intent may become very real. Unfortunately, there are countless children and adolescents who struggle with the presence of suicidal ideation, and it is considered to be one of the most dangerous symptoms associated with childhood depression and anxiety. Because many children and adolescents lash out verbally from time to time making dramatic comments about death, it is easy for some to disregard such comments. As a result, many view such statements as being a child’s attempt at gaining attention. However, this disregard of such statements can have devastating results. Even if a child or adolescent is only contemplating suicide, the line between contemplation and acting on the behaviors can be crossed at any time. Treatment is here for your child suffering with suicidal thoughts.


Suicidal ideation statistics

It is nearly impossible to determine the exact prevalence of the amount of children and adolescents who suffer from suicidal ideation due to the fact that they are thoughts that occur in one’s mind and, unless that person makes the decision to voice the thoughts, there is no true way to know that they exist. However, because suicidal ideation can often lead to suicide attempts and completed acts of suicide, researchers have compiled statistics regarding suicidal behaviors.

In the United States alone, it has been estimated that an average of 94 suicides are completed every day and that approximately one person attempts to commit suicide every 38 seconds. Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have concluded that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death amongst children between the ages of 10 and 14 and is the third leading cause of death amongst adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation

Professionals in the field of mental health believe that a combination of genetic, physical, and environmental factors all play a role in the development of suicidal ideation, as described in the following:

Genetic: Suicidal ideation is many times symptomatic of the presence of a mental illness, and mental illnesses are said to have a strong genetic link as they are known to run in families. Depression is one mental illness in which suicidal ideation is greatly prominent and research has shown that more than 50% of children who have parents who suffer from depression will develop similar symptoms before they reach the age of 20. Therefore, if suicidal ideation is a symptom of the depression that one’s parents are suffering from, it can be hypothesized that the child may be at risk for experiencing suicidal ideation as well.

Physical: The presence of suicidal preoccupations has been noted as being related to chemical imbalances in a person’s brain, most predominantly in an imbalance involving decreased levels of serotonin. When a child or adolescent experiences this type of chemical imbalance, his or her susceptibility to developing a preoccupation with suicide greatly increases.

Environmental: Being subjected to unhealthy environments can lead children and adolescents to develop unhealthy mental, emotional, and behavioral responses. For example, if children are raised in an environment where they are abused, neglected, or demeaned in any way, their emotional responses will be hindered, potentially leading to significantly low feelings of self-worth. This low self-esteem can ultimately result in the onset of suicidal ideation.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of depression, anxiety, or other mental illness
  • Knowing someone who has died by suicide
  • Being exposed to violence
  • Low self-esteem
  • Suffering from physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse or neglect
  • Losing a family member or loved one
  • Suffering from severe anxiety or severe depression
  • Suffering from severe medical concerns

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

Signs and symptoms that may indicate the presence of suicidal ideation in a child or adolescent will vary based on factors such as the child’s age, how long the child has been consumed by the thoughts, the support system or lack of support system that is available to the child, as well as the child’s individual temperament and personality characteristics.

Behavioral symptoms:

  • No longer participating in activities once enjoyed
  • Participating in self-harming behaviors
  • Talking and/or writing about death
  • Isolating oneself from family and friends
  • Increased participation in risky activities
  • Giving away one’s possessions
  • Using phrases indicative of hopelessness, such as “it’s not worth it anymore”

Physical symptoms:

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Chronic panic attacks
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Noticeable changes in one’s physical appearance (e.g. no longer caring how one looks, not bathing as frequently, etc.)

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impaired short-term memory
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Preoccupation with death

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Overwhelming feelings of hopelessness
  • All-consuming feelings of worthlessness
  • No longer interested in things one used to have great interest in
  • Feeling as though there is no purpose in existing and that there is no hope for the future
  • Severe anxiety


Effects of suicidal ideation

When suicidal ideation is a constant presence in a person’s mind, the likelihood that he or she will begin attempting to follow through on those thoughts increases. The means by which children and adolescents may attempt to end their lives will vary, but all can lead to a variety of negative physical effects, including:

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

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders

Sadly, the existence of suicidal ideation has a strong tendency to be present as a symptom of many mental illnesses. When children and adolescents are plagued by ongoing thoughts of wanting to commit suicide, it is likely that they are suffering from a mental health disorder. Examples of different disorders that suicidal ideation is known to be symptomatic of include:

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

I always felt so misunderstood, but at Resource it was like someone finally took the time to get to know me. That made a huge difference. This place helped me so much.