Almost everyone at some point in time has thought about giving up on life, but oftentimes don't carry out the act. This is suicidal ideation.
What is suicidal ideation? One author suggests that, “Suicidal thoughts, or suicidal ideation, means thinking about or planning suicide.” These thoughts can range from a detailed plan to a fleeting consideration, although it does not include the final act of suicide.
Suicidal ideations have been proven to be very prevalent among young people. Notwithstanding, it affects people of all ages and across all sectors of the society.
According to Professor Frederick Hickling, “More than 50 per cent of the nation's youth captured in a recent U-Report survey have considered suicide, with 31 per cent of the respondents saying they actually attempted to end their lives”. He further stated that, “Most young people pass through a phase of being uncertain, and a lot [of] them will have suicide ideation, but the actual number of people who convert suicidal thoughts into action is very low.” Ironically, low does not mean none. Some do carry out the act of committing suicide and, for me, one life lost is too many.
A person who is experiencing or could experience suicidal ideation or thoughts may show the following signs or symptoms:
• feeling or appearing to feel trapped or hopeless
• feeling intolerable emotional pain
• having or appearing to have an abnormal preoccupation with violence, dying, or death
• having mood swings, either happy or sad
• talking about revenge, guilt, or shame
• being agitated or in a heightened state of anxiety
• experiencing changes in personality, routine, or sleeping patterns
• consuming drugs or more alcohol than usual, or starting drinking when they had not previously done so
• engaging in risky behaviour, such as driving carelessly or taking drugs
• getting their affairs in order and giving things away
• getting hold of a gun, medications, or substances that could end a life
• experiencing depression, panic attacks, impaired concentration
• increased isolation and talking about being a burden to others
• psychomotor agitation, such as pacing around a room, wringing one's hands, and removing items of clothing, and putting them back on
• saying goodbye to others as if it were the last time
• seeming to be unable to experience pleasurable emotions from normally pleasurable life events such as eating, exercise, social interaction, or sex
• severe remorse and self-criticism
• talking about suicide or dying, expressing regret about being alive or ever having been born
A significant number of people with suicidal ideation keep their thoughts and feelings a secret and show no signs that anything is wrong. However, some seek our attention and oftentimes we ignore the signs and symptoms of their desperate cry of help.
Causes of Suicidal Ideations
Suicidal ideation can occur when a person feels they are no longer able to cope with an overwhelming situation. This could stem from financial problems, death of a loved one, a broken relationship, a devastating or debilitating illness, or mental illness.
However, the most common situations or life events that might cause suicidal thoughts are grief, sexual abuse, financial problems, remorse, rejection, a relationship break-up, and unemployment.
The following are risk factors that may have an impact on the probability of someone experiencing suicidal ideation: a family history of mental health issues, violence, history of suicide, and psychiatric disorder or mental illness.
Conditions that are linked to a higher risk of suicidal ideation include:
• adjustment disorder
• anorexia nervosa
• bipolar disorder
• body dysmorphic disorder
• borderline personality disorder
• dissociative identity disorder
• gender dysphoria, or gender identity disorder
• panic disorder
• post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• social anxiety disorder
• substance abuse
• exposure to suicidal behavior in others
Importantly, genetic factors may increase the risk of suicidal ideation or it can be a symptom of a mental health problem, such as depression or bipolar disorder. Simultaneously, rejection and low self-esteem play strong roles in people's ability to balance their thoughts, body, mind, and spirit.
Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton reiterates that, “Mental illness is more prevalent than we think, and we the policymakers, researchers, and practitioners who are directly involved in the field, must recognise how big a challenge it is, and confront it holistically.”
Fortunately, suicidal ideations and other mental illnesses can be successfully treated or managed with medication and therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or counselling. As a trained career counsellor, I am suggesting that we look out for the signs and symptoms in our friends, family members, co-workers, etc, and offer help, check up on them frequently, follow up on their progress, and offer positive support.
Karen McFarlane is an educator and career development practitioner. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org