Have you ever thought about wanting to die, or know someone who has? You may have felt helpless and hopeless in the situation. But please remember, you are far from alone.

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  • 10 June 2022
It can be terrifying to hear yourself think, “I want to die”.
 
Perhaps it might have been a one-off fleeting thought that caught you by surprise, or perhaps the thought has been on your mind for some time.

“I really want to die, I don’t want to live anymore, I just want to die.”

When the helplessness and hopelessness feel all too real, it is easy to sink into the thought that you are alone in this experience. It might surprise you then, that the struggle with “why do I want to die?” is battled by hundreds of thousands of people each year. In other words, in this very minute, multiple people have felt the same way as you. You are far from alone, although it can certainly feel that way sometimes.

This article explains what being “suicidal” means. Some common suicide warning signs and causes for suicidal ideation are listed. Typical misconceptions about suicidal thoughts are examined and clarified. Next, the article introduces different ways to get help and support for feeling suicidal or having suicidal thoughtsFinally, the article sheds some light on crisis support services and how seeking professional help may be beneficial in the long term.

As a first step, it is important to acknowledge that thoughts such as “I want to die” can be very distressing to experience.

Am I Suicidal?

I want to die: Suicidal ideation

What is suicidal ideation? Suicidal ideation refers to having thoughts or ideas about suicide or ending one’s own life. There is a difference between active suicidal ideation and passive suicidal ideation. A person with active suicidal ideation has thoughts of suicide as well as a plan to carry it out. On the other hand, a person is said to have passive suicidal ideation if they are thinking about suicide, but do not have a plan to carry it out

Either way, the feelings can be overwhelming. Suicide ideation is a distinct concept from a suicide attempt. The latter occurs when a person acts on suicidal thoughts and harms themselves with the intention of ending their own life, but do not die due to their actions.

Warning Signs

Are you worried that yourself or someone close to you is at risk of suicide? Here are some common suicide warning signs keep an eye out for. The suicide warning signs may manifest in terms of speech, behaviour, and/or mood.

Speech

  • Talking about wanting to die or having plans to take one’s own life, eg expressing thoughts such as “I want to die”
  • Talking about being burdensome to loved ones, eg “My partner’s life would be better without me”
  • Sharing about overwhelming or intolerable emotional pain, eg “I can’t take this anymore”
  • Expressions of hopelessness, eg “Life is meaningless”
  • Expressions of helplessness or feeling trapped, eg “It’s no use”
  • Threats about killing oneself, eg “If you don’t do _____, I will kill myself”
  • Saying goodbyes

Behaviour

  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Doing research on ways to die
  • Writing suicide notes
  • Arranging for possessions to be given away

Mood

  • Drastic mood swings or emotional outbursts that seem out of character, eg uncharacteristic displays of anxiety, anger, frustration, irritability, impulsivity
  • Loss of interest in or enjoyment of activities that were previously liked
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
If you are experiencing any of the suicide warning signs above, please know this: you are important and you matter. This is regardless of how much your thoughts try to convince you otherwise. People who are experiencing suicidal ideation sometimes think (mistakenly) that their absence would not make a difference to those around them. This subjective perception may be different from the reality. In fact, studies have shown that for each suicide, at least six lives of those left behind are impacted. Common experiences of those left behind include shock and anger. Often, they experience guilt for not noticing the warning signs, or for not doing something to prevent the suicide earlier. They may also be at risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts themselves.
 

Causes

There is typically no single cause for thoughts like “I want to die”. Often, individuals with suicidal ideation feel overwhelmingly helpless or hopeless. Life may seem meaningless and bleak. When a crisis like this happens, tunnel vision can occur, where suicide appears to be the only way out.

These are some of the risk factors for suicide ideation:

  • Having a previous suicide attempt or attempts
  • Having a family history of suicide
  • Knowing someone else who died by suicide
  • Having mental health conditions (eg depression)
  • Having medical conditions (eg a chronic disease, terminal illness, and chronic pain)
  • Stressful life events or changes (eg the death of a loved one, unemployment, a breakup, and financial or legal difficulties)
  • A history of abuse, trauma, or neglect
  • Being from the LGBT community
  • Being a victim of bullying
  • Access to weapons

Myths about Suicide

feeling alone

Even when suicide signs are clearly present, we sometimes hesitate and refrain from seeking the help we need. This can sometimes be despite help and support being readily available. 

Perhaps we are unsure of how to even start talking about the issue, or how to reach out. Or, we might be concerned about what others may think. We may also think twice before offering support to someone who is suicidal. Why? Because we fear that we might worsen the situation instead. Often, these fears are premised on preconceived notions that we mistakenly assume to be trueLet’s examine some of these myths in this section.

Myth 1: People with suicidal ideation want to die.

Reality: Most people who contemplate suicide do not want to die. What they do want is for their pain to end. In the moments of despair, however, options of how they could end their pain may seem limited. This may result in ambivalence: I don’t want to live, but I don’t want to die. What can be helpful immediately is calling the local suicide prevention helpline to speak to someoneA trained crisis helpline staff or volunteer can provide a safe listening ear for you in this difficult, low momentWhen the time is right, a gentle exploration of various possibilities could instil hope.

Myth 2: People experiencing suicidal ideation are just seeking attention. They won’t actually end their own lives.

Reality: “I want to die”, or other ways of talking about suicide, is a call for help. Instead of turning away or dismissing a person’s experience when they are at their lowest, direct them to someone who can help. This could be their loved one, a trained professional, or a person of authority in their life. You could be saving a life.

 Myth 3: Bringing up the topic of suicide may plant the idea of suicide in a person’s mind.

Reality: This could not be further from the truth. Asking someone if they are feeling suicidal shows that you are genuinely concerned for them. It also gives the person a chance to reach out for help. It lets them know that someone has noticed, and that someone cares about them. That in itself can be a simple but powerful moment. Take note, though, that conversations that occur when helping someone in crisis should be explored carefully.

Myth 4: Only people with mental illnesses are suicidal.

Reality: Suicide can affect anyone, anywhere. It affects people regardless of age, nationality, ethnicity, physical health, mental health, or economic statusWhile suicidal thoughts might sometimes be a symptom of certain mental health conditions such as depression, there are people suffering from mental illnesses who do not contemplate suicide. At the same time, there are individuals without mental illnesses who contemplate suicide. Essentially, there is no standard “look” or “type” for people who contemplate suicide.

 Myth 5: Suicides occur suddenly with no warning.

Reality: In most cases, suicide warning signs would have occurred before the suicide. However, loved ones may not have known or recognised what the individual was going through. It thus might have appeared that the suicide occurred suddenly out of the blue. It is thus important to be aware of the suicide warning signs so that help can be sought early.

Myth 6: Suicidal thoughts have one single cause.

Reality: Suicidal thoughts don’t have one single cause. Suicidal ideation is a complex issue, often involving multiple stressors and causes. Much is unknown in the literature. Factors that are thought to increase one’s risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts include major life stressors, knowing someone who died by suicide, chronic health conditions, having experienced abuse, access to weapons, and having had past suicide attempts.

Get Help & Support for Suicide

suicidal support

What do I do when I feel like I want to die? No matter how bleak or hopeless you may think your situation is, remember that there is always someone out there who is willing to hear you out. There are many ways an individual can reach out for help and support.

Immediate Help and Support

If you are feeling suicidal now, here are some things you can do.

Seek crisis intervention

Call your local suicide prevention helplineAlternatively, visit the accident and emergency department of a hospital near you. If you are hesitant to go alone, ask a trusted individual to accompany you. The focus at this stage is to ensure your safety.

Trained helpline professionals can provide a safe, empathetic, and non-judgmental space for you to share your concerns. They will support you in shifting from crisis mode to a calmer state of mind. They may also be able to refer you to relevant resources in your local community.

Seek social support

As humans, we are hardwired for connection. Reach out. Seek social support from someone you feel safe with. This could be a trusted friend, colleague, teacher, religious leader, family member, or relative. Tell them how you feel. Sharing our struggles reminds us that we are not alone. Of course, how much you choose to share is up to you. You could also simply spend time together, share a meal, catch a movie, or exercise together.

Do something you find relaxing

This might be eating your favourite meal, listening to a song you love, looking at pictures of your pet, watching funny videos, taking a walk in a park, or anything else that helps you relaxThere are many online videos offering guided progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing exercises. Find positive ways to distract yourself and make yourself calmer. When we are calmer, we are better able to evaluate our options.

Take things one step at a time

Instead of trying to solve all the problems in your life in this one moment, slow down. Focus on getting through just one day at a time. If you need to, try getting through even just one hour at a time. Give yourself time. You may notice that some hours are less unbearable than others. It may help to acknowledge this, and allow yourself to take baby steps. Practise self-compassion, and be kinder to yourself.

Long Term Support

Tough times do not disappear overnight. Improving our mental health takes much effort, but is rewarding. There are various things that we can do to improve our overall mental health in the long run. These serve to buffer us against the stressors of life.
Create a safety plan
The purpose of a safety plan is to keep you safe when a crisis occurs. Ideally, this plan should be created before a crisis occurs, when you feel calm. You may create a safety plan on your own using an online templateAlternatively, a trained mental health professional may guide you in co-creating a safety plan tailored for you.
 
What does a safety plan look like? A safety plan generally includes warning signs that a crisis may be occurring, and coping strategies that you can use on your own. It also lists supportive people you can reach out to in times of crisis. This may include loved ones and friends, as well as local organisations and professionals you can turn to for support. You may also note down ways to make your environment safer. Last but not least, you may list things or people that motivate you to live. For some individuals, this could even be their pets who depend on them.
 
Initially, these points may seem obvious as you create a safety plan. However, having this information at your fingertips can be immensely helpful when feelings overwhelm you during a crisis.
Avoid self-blame

Feelings are never wrong or right; they are just that – feelings. All feelings are valid. Feeling overwhelmed is valid too. Having suicidal thoughts is typically a response to multiple stressors in life. It does not mean that you are weak, or that something is “wrong” with you. On the contrary, it takes a huge lot of courage for someone who is feeling down to reach out for help. Talking about your feelings can be difficult. It is normal to be unsure of how to even start talking to someone about your feelings.

Exercise

 When we are experiencing a tough time emotionally, it can be easy to overlook our physical health. We all know that exercise improves our mood and wellbeing. Exercise allows our body to release dopamine, also known as the “feel-good hormone”.

Seek professional support

Combining social support with professional therapy is a common option, for various reasons. For example, while relationships with our loved ones offer informal support and familiarity, therapists offer objectivity as they are removed from and hence neutral about the situationA professional therapist can work with you to identify potential triggers and explore options. They can also co-create a safety plan with you. With the help of therapy, individuals often report greater emotional awareness and increased clarity about their situation.

For instance, many people do not feel comfortable disclosing too much about their situation to the people in their livesProfessional therapy thus offers a safe and trusting relationship that does not overlap with their personal lives. A therapist is also bound by confidentiality in accordance with local ethical standards.

Personal boundaries also play a role. A professional therapist will work with you to explore what you would like to get out of the counselling relationship in the long termSome examples include greater self-awareness, emotional coping techniques, and communication skills, to name a few. It is up to the client to decide their counselling goals.
 
Here’s something to note, though. People sometimes believe that a problem needs to be “major enough” to justify seeking professional help. This is a key point to remember: you don’t have to wait for a problem to get worse before you try to make it better. People go to therapy for all sorts of purposes, including general self-awareness and self-improvement.
 
Think about this. There are people who go to the gym to rebuild their muscles after an injury. There are also people who go to the gym to build muscles and be healthy in general. The same applies to your thoughts and emotions.

Conclusion: "I Want to Die"

I want to die
Picking yourself up from having thoughts such as “I just want to die, I don’t want to live anymore” might just be the most challenging thing you’ve ever had to do in your lifeChances are, you’ve been through an immensely difficult time, with a tonne of distressing thoughts, to get to this pointPerhaps there were people along the way who had misconceptions about suicide. Perhaps they didn’t understand. You’re here now. So is help. Why go through this alone?
 
There is hope.
 
Note: this article is not intended to replace professional advice or crisis intervention. If you are in immediate danger, contact your local suicide prevention helpline or emergency service.