According to WHO statistics, suicide is the 4th leading cause of death globally among persons aged 15 to 29. As a result, if the thought of “I want to die” has ever crossed your mind, you aren’t alone. But where do such thoughts come from? Before answering that, it’s essential to differentiate the different types of suicidal thoughts. This feeling could be considered suicidal ideation, so it’s important to understand what’s happening and seek help.
Active vs. Passive Suicidal Thoughts
A suicidal thought generally emanates from being overwhelmed by emotional or other mental health pain. In this regard, you can either have passive suicidal thoughts or active suicidal thoughts. Passive suicidal thoughts are rare. If you think of suicide occasionally but don’t plan to take your own line, you can consider such thoughts passive. But on the other hand, active suicidal thoughts are constant. Most importantly, individuals who have such thoughts have a safety plan already in place.
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While some suicidal thoughts are more severe than others, all suicidal thoughts, including “I want to die,” are scary. Even passive suicidal thoughts are extreme. What’s more, passive thoughts can quickly become active. It’s easy to make the thoughts worse, yet all humans inherently desire to continue living. So, what should you do if you ever think, “I want to die?” Understanding the source of suicidal feelings is the key to managing the thoughts and preventing the worst.
Causes of Thinking “I Want to Die”
Research shows that suicidal thoughts result from several factors. The most notable include:
1. Feelings of Hopelessness
Many studies show a direct correlation between hope and a person’s quality of life, i.e., high levels of hope translate to a better quality of life. Hope can be defined as the expectation for better. For example, a hopeless person has a mind dominated by negative thoughts. Such persons may not see the good in anything, yet there’s always something to be happy and hopeful about in your own life if you dare to look around.
2. Chronic Fatigue
Suppose you are constantly tired over prolonged periods due to life challenges, i.e., long working hours. In that case, you may start feeling hopeless, especially if you don’t think you are getting ahead or can’t slow down due to the fear of letting others down. Chronic fatigue has been proven to alter memory and thinking. It may be impossible to practice self-care when you feel overwhelmed and are constantly at work. The result may be altered thinking which can very well include thoughts like “I want to die.”
3. Grief and Despair
Thoughts of “I want to die” can also come from the overwhelming emotions of losing a loved one (grief) or desperation and anguish (despair). Grief from losing a loved one is expressed by most people as a mixture of intense emotions that include, but aren’t limited to, shock, anger, guilt, and confusion.
The feelings can continue for weeks, months, or years, accompanied by intense reactions like flashbacks, concentration problems, and social withdrawal. Despair can have many sources. For instance, research studies indicate a correlation between a lack of mental health professionals and insurance and increased suicide risks in the U.S.
4. Depression and Substance Abuse
There is a link between suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and depression – a mental disorder characterized by extreme lowering or elevation of a person’s mood, i.e., intense sadness and happiness. Persons suffering from depression can lose interest in things they love and in life.
There are signs there’s also a link between substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. For example, research shows that people abusing substances like alcohol and drugs are more likely to become depressed.
We’ve summarized the leading underlying causes of thinking “I want to die” from a scientific standpoint. While there may be other reasons why you are contemplating suicide or may get suicidal thoughts occasionally or constantly, the above reasons are the most common. Let’s now shift our attention to the solution. For example, what should you do if you ever think, “I want to die”?
What To Do When You Think “I Want To Die”
1. Be Easy on Yourself
As discussed above, risk factors like chronic fatigue can arise from overworking yourself, so you don’t disappoint others. If your suicidal thoughts emanate from chronic fatigue, you should start being easy on yourself. If grief is your source of thinking, “I want to die,” maybe because you felt partly responsible for losing a loved one (because you weren’t there for them enough), you must stop blaming yourself.
Many people are compassionate with others and not with themselves. Instead of “beating yourself up,” treat yourself as you would treat your family members or your best friend. This may be easier said than done. If you need support and a practical approach, begin by imagining a person you care about with the same problem as yourself, i.e., suicidal thoughts.
Proceed by thinking of what you would tell such a person if they told you they want to kill themselves. So finish by showing yourself the same compassion offer support and kindness, and remember that suffering and imperfection are part of the human experience. Most importantly, you should be kind to yourself as much (if not more) than you are kind to friends and others.
2. Give Yourself Time
If you ever get active suicidal thoughts, don’t do anything in a rush. Active suicidal thoughts may appear intense; however, the pain will come and go, as evident with persons who have mental conditions like bipolar. Promising yourself or someone (a friend, family or therapist) that you won’t harm yourself in the short term may be all you need to make your suicidal thoughts disappear.
Most importantly, you should give yourself time with every suicidal thought you get, i.e., if you feel better, you shouldn’t act on suicidal thoughts next time without giving yourself time again to see if the thoughts go away. You can have a “4-day rule” to increase the distance between the moment of having suicidal thoughts and acting on them. Of course, giving yourself time is highly recommendable since suicidal thoughts come and go.
3. Rest and Avoid Abusing Alcohol or Taking Drugs
Since chronic fatigue is scientifically capable of altering your thinking and bringing forth mental health issues and thoughts of suicide, it helps to get as much rest as possible. Therefore, you should aim to sleep enough, which will vary with age. According to the CDC, adults aged 18 to 60 should sleep 7 hours or more per night.
You should also avoid drugs and alcohol since they are proven to impair your thinking. For example, while many people take alcohol and other drugs for recreational purposes (for relaxation) or as coping mechanisms (to cope with stress), the effects include but aren’t limited to, increased anxiety, stress, and depression.
4. Get Active
Research suggests that exercise is an antidepressant. You can get rid of depression (a leading cause of suicide) simply by making exercise a habit. Most importantly, you don’t need to overdo anything. Raising your heart rate by walking for 20 minutes daily on weekdays will offer significant emotional and physical benefits. Exercising releases endorphins (“feel-good” hormones), alleviating stress and depression.
Remember to get active outdoors and get some sunlight every day, if possible, since sunlight triggers the release of serotonin, a hormone responsible for lifting your mood.
5. Get Professional Help
If you take all the above remedies and still feel suicidal, it’s time to seek professional help. Furthermore, suicidal thoughts must be taken seriously, even passively. If you occasionally want to die, you can begin by speaking with someone you trust, like a parent, sibling, friend, family member, doctor or counselor.
Suicidal thoughts shouldn’t be something you are afraid or ashamed of, considering the prevalence of suicide globally. 700,000+ people take their own lives yearly around the world. Many more attempt suicide. Sharing your thoughts and feelings can save you from being part of these statistics. It can also save your loved ones from immeasurable emotional pain too, considering suicide devastates those left behind.
You should be open to talking to people you trust. Alternatively, talk to a counselor about your thoughts or plan. Seasoned counselors have dealt with cases like yours and have the professional capacity to help you. For example, you can get a therapist or counselor via national helplines.
There are free, easy, and anonymous ways of getting help. For instance, the U.S. has a suicide prevention website and hotline. You can also use other online resources like helpguide.org. Simply take the first step/leap of faith and contact someone.
You can get several therapies proven to have patients reduce/eliminate suicidal thoughts. The treatments include but aren’t limited to cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectic behavior therapy, and collaborative assessment & management of suicidality. If you seek a mental health professional for help, you could also get medication to treat underlying causes like depression.
There’s no shortage of antidepressants in the world that are tested, proven, and approved by renowned bodies like the FDA. Therefore, your psychiatrist can choose the right antidepressants for you and recommend other treatments they deem necessary.
If the thought of “I want to die” ever crosses your mind occasionally or repeatedly, just know you aren’t alone. The most important cause of action is identifying the cause/s of your suicidal thoughts. Whether it is hopelessness, chronic fatigue, grief, despair, depression, substance abuse, or other reasons, just know you can do something about it. Begin by being easy on yourself, giving yourself time, resting, exercising, and avoiding alcohol and drugs. If this doesn’t work, seek professional help.