Why suicidal ideation needs to be taken seriously
I remember sitting on my sofa in front of the television gazing past the screen. I wasn’t myself.
I’d been feeling very low, and had been going through a depressive episode with my bipolar disorder. I remember feeling numb, as if I wasn’t really present. Like my body was floating above me as the world kept spinning around.
I’d been experiencing suicidal ideation. But it was odd. I didn’t want to be here anymore, but I also didn’t want to die. I wasn’t afraid of dying, but it was that I just wanted to escape the world I was living in. The feelings and thoughts I was experiencing. I wanted to live, but I wanted to enjoy living. It felt like I was in constant limbo.
The recent television interview with the Duchess of Sussex has been followed by mental health charities emphasizing that suicidal ideation must not be doubted or discounted, and expressing concerns on how some of the press has reacted to her revelation.
I couldn’t agree more.
Suicidal ideation means you want to take your own life, or are thinking about suicide. However, according to Verywell Mind, there are two kinds of suicidal ideation: passive and active. Passive suicidal ideation ‘occurs when you wish you were dead or that you could die, but you don’t actually have any plans to commit suicide’.
Active suicidal ideation is where you are planning to die by suicide.
I was experiencing the former. I was daydreaming about how I could end my life. Accidental things that could happen where I was harmed. About harming myself.
It was Summer 2018 and I had taken time off of work because I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t sleep properly, at all. In fact, I was scared to sleep. Because I knew that sleeping meant waking up to another day of feeling how I was feeling.
I’d dread night time simply because of this — and the nights were harder because the intrusive thoughts would set in and fill my head with triggering and anxiety-inducing thoughts.
My relationship was failing because I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to sit on the sofa in the same pyjamas I had been in for days — having not even showered — and stare blankly at the TV.
But at the same time, I felt like a fraud. I felt like this because I didn’t have any plans to actually end my life. It made me feel like my thoughts and feelings weren’t valid. That there were people feeling a lot worse than me, and therefore this suicidal ideation wasn’t as important. I told myself that I was just being overdramatic and silly.
But it wasn’t silly, because the thoughts were all-consuming.
And that’s what I want other people to know.
Suicidal ideation is serious and needs to be taken seriously. It’s not just a fleeting thought. Suicidal ideation can cause you to isolate yourself from others, to experience intense mood swings, to experience incredibly high levels of anxiety. And I think the numbness of suicidal ideation is one of the worst bits — you want to feel something. Even if it’s pain. Because at least you’re feeling something.
According to The World Health Organization, a survey taking place in 21 countries found that those with a lifetime history of suicidal ideation had a 33% probability of making a plan to end their life, with the probability of ever making a suicide attempt being approximately 30%. Consistently across countries, around 60% of the transitions from suicidal ideation to suicide plan, and from plan to suicide attempt, occurred in the first year after the onset of suicidal ideation.
It’s not just people themselves — like myself — who don’t think their thoughts are valid, but the mental health services, too. Yes, the services are heavily underfunded, with a Crisis team member once telling me that they are the most underfunded sector of my local NHS; but seeking help for suicidal ideation is difficult because the services often don’t even take you seriously.
It wasn’t until I physically couldn’t take how I was feeling anymore that I sought help. I’d been struggling too much to handle on my own. I remember going to A&E in the Autumn of 2018. It was late at night.
When seeking help myself, I was asked whether I had a plan to end my life. And because I didn’t receive help beyond a Crisis team intervention ‘just in case’ and being told to practise mindfulness and buy an adult colouring book. I once asked why suicidal ideation wasn’t enough for me to get proper help, and why it took making a plan to end your life — or even ending your life — to be taken seriously. I was responded to with a baffled stare.
I didn’t start to feel better until my then-relationship ended, and I realised that a lot of how I was feeling was due to the fact I was in an unhappy relationship. I hadn’t correlated the two, because my relationship — which included sleeping in separate rooms and rarely leaving the house — had been the same for years. I don’t know what triggered me to feel how I was feeling at that point in time, I just know that things got better when we split.
I received a lot of support from family and friends after the split, and in turn, this helped the way I was feeling. I was able to cry on their shoulders and to be encouraged to seek help from a professional, who also increased my medication which enabled my mood to become more stable.
Had we not split, I’m unsure how things would have turned out; because I wouldn’t have gone to my loved ones for support. I wouldn’t have wanted to have been a burden (something that a lot of people with a similar experience may feel). It’s easier to cry on someone’s shoulder over a breakup than it is to do so because of your mental health.
But what I’ve learned since is that I’m not a burden, and that you should be able to seek support from loved ones and friends.
This isn’t enough.
Suicidal ideation is horrendous to live with, and it needs to be taken seriously by mental health professionals before it leads to something more. Not when you make a plan. Not when you die by suicide. And not when people realise they should have helped before something bad happens, and people say: “I wish they’d spoken out”.
If you are struggling and in need of support, below are a few incredibly helpful organisations which provide both resources and direct help:
Shout Crisis Text Line — you can text Shout to 85258 if you are experiencing a personal crisis, are unable to cope and need support.
Talk to the Samaritans — they offer 24-hour emotional support in full confidence. You can call them for free on 116 123
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) offers a chat and hotlines service from 5pm to midnight
Papyrus (Suicide Prevention Charity) offers similar service for adolescents and young adults under the age of 35
Mind — you can call the Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393 / firstname.lastname@example.org, the Mind Legal Advice service on 0300 466 6463 / email@example.com