Trigger warning: This post contains a frank discussion of suicide as it pertains to normal suicidal thoughts.
When asking whether suicidal thoughts are normal, we must first define what normal means to us. I think many people use the word "normal" when they mean "common." Alternatively, we might use the word "normal" when questioning if something is problematic. This definition shifts the question. Are suicidal thoughts common? Are they always problematic?
Normal Suicidal Thoughts: Common and/or Problematic?
Suicidal Thoughts Are Common
I think passive suicidal thoughts are the most common. A passive suicidal thought is one that is generally fleeting and entails no plan to follow through. There are many reasons people experience them. Depression may be the most obvious reason, but I think grief, chronic anxiety, or overwhelming stress can all cause passive suicidal ideation, too.
Perhaps you have experienced this before. I can remember times in my life when I felt so overwhelmed and depressed that I thought, "If I die in a car accident on the way to school, I would be okay with it."
I didn't want to kill myself, but I felt so exhausted by the stress and difficulty in my life that death seemed like a viable solution to my problems. Luckily, I reached out for help with suicide and learned that death would be a permanent consequence of my temporary problems. I needed help changing my current situation so that life could feel enjoyable again.
Are Suicidal Thoughts Always Problematic?
Suicidal thoughts are distressing, but they do not always mean a person is at risk of attempting suicide. Passive suicidal thoughts might be a sign that a person needs help, needs a break, or needs to make some lifestyle changes. It can be an internal cue that you aren't doing well, and it's time to reach out to your therapist or support system.
When should you worry about suicidal thoughts? If suicidal thoughts become more concrete, that is a sign of potential risk. If you or someone you care about starts to think about a plan for suicide and has the means to carry out that plan, intervention is warranted.
How to Help a Suicidal Friend with Normal Suicidal Thoughts
Asking someone if they are thinking about suicide will not make them suicidal or increase their suicidal thoughts ("Is Talking About Suicide with a Suicidal Person Dangerous?"). When asking a loved one about their suicidal thoughts, be sure to ask if they have a plan and if they have the means to carry out their plan. If they do, ask if they intend to carry out their plan or if they are willing to put safety guards in place. Willingness to engage in a safety plan is an excellent sign that someone wants help to relieve their suicidal thoughts and keep living.
If you know someone who has recently attempted suicide, please watch my video below for tips on how to talk to them about it.
See also: "How to Talk to a Suicidal Person"
If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.
For more information on suicide, see our suicide information, resources and support section. For additional mental health help, please see our mental health hotline numbers and referral information section.
Author: Heidi Green, Psy.D.
Heidi Green is a clinical psychologist and self-love aficionado. She lives her blissful life in Arizona where she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and snuggling her rescue pups. Find Heidi on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and her blog.
Please note: Dr. Green shares her personal opinions and experiences and nothing written by her should be considered professional or personal services or advice.
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