What’s Passive Suicidal Ideation?

Jul 2, 2022Suicidal Ideation

Invictus Clinic
July 2, 2022

Suicide is a major health concern and one of the leading causes of death. In the United States, many people grapple with mental and physical health issues that may contribute to thoughts and plans about death or even taking their own lives. Fortunately, many people who talk about suicide never do more than that – this is an example of passive suicidal ideation.

Facts About Suicide

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Suicide rates increased 30% between 2000 and 2018.
  • There were 45,979 deaths by suicide in 2020.
  • There is one death every 11 minutes caused by suicide.
  • In 2020, more than 12 million U.S. adults reported they seriously thought about suicide.
  • Suicide is a top-nine leading cause of death for people 10 to 64 years old and number two for those ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34 years old.

Who’s At Risk?

The main risk factors include:

  • A record of suicide attempts
  • Depression, substance use disorder, or other mental disorders 
  • Chronic pain
  • Family history of a mental health issue or substance abuse
  • Exposure to different kinds of family violence, including physical violence
  • Access to guns or other firearms at home
  • Being recently released from prison or jail
  • Any kind of exposure to someone else’s suicidal behavior, such as that of peers, family members, or celebrities

Obstacles to Suicide Prevention

There are a number of prevention tips to help keep people safe who may be in passive suicidal ideation mode, including:

  •  Limiting access to lethal means of suicide (like pesticides, firearms, and certain medicine)
  •  Engaging with the media for accountable reporting of suicide
  •  Encouraging socio-emotional life skills in children and teens
  • Early identification, assessment, management, and following up with people affected by suicidal actions.

But none of these prevention strategies will prove successful unless integrated with raising awareness, situation analysis, capacity building, multisectoral collaboration, financing, observation, and monitoring and evaluation.

How can you support someone in a crisis?

  • Talk openly and carefully. There shouldn’t be barriers to questions like: “Do you have an idea of how you would take your own life?”
  • Remove lethal methods of suicide
  • Keep questions simple and direct: “Can I reach out to your therapist?”
  • Group support is fine, but only one person should speak at a time
  • Express concern and support 
  • Forget arguments, threats, or raising your voice
  • Keep moral debates out of the conversation
  • Try not to show you’re nervous
  • Exercise patience

Understanding Passive Suicidal Ideation

Passive suicidal ideation happens when you or someone else has thoughts about or desires for death without planning for the end of their life. It’s very different from active suicidal ideation, where a person thinks about specific methods they can implement to end their life. When you’re in the mode of active suicidal ideation, you’re planning to harm yourself with the intent to die, whereas the passive version doesn’t feature any concrete plans to conduct your harmful thoughts.

But what causes passive suicidal ideation? It could be driven by intense feelings of depression or anxiety or chronic mood disorders, which results in passive thoughts several times during their lives. In some cases, passive suicide ideas happen so often that the person may not think there’s a problem.

Warning signs may include:

  • More alcohol and drug consumption
  • Being aggressive 
  • Self-isolation from friends, family, and society
  • Significant mood swings
  • Impetuous or reckless behavior
  • Acquiring and saving pills or purchasing a weapon
  • Giving away personal belongings
  • Tidying up loose ends, like personal paperwork or paying down loans
  • Bidding friends and family farewell

Is talking with someone about passive suicidal ideation bad? According to Marina Murphy, a lecturer with the School of Social Work, University of Nevada-Reno, there are many misconceptions about the risks of suicide. One of the most significant misbeliefs is that people believe that broaching the topic with someone you feel is at risk can push them over the edge, from passive suicidal ideation to active suicidal ideation to – in the worst-case scenario – ultimately taking their own life. But research has proven otherwise. That’s not true and, in fact, talking carefully but openly can save that person’s life.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If you know someone who’s going through passive suicidal ideation, the worst thing you can do is to do nothing at all. Compassion, understanding, listening skills, and resolving to act on your friend’s behalf could save their life. If necessary, call a loved one or someone else who could help. And don’t be afraid to talk about professional help or the benefits of ketamine therapy.


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