Active Vs. Passive Suicidal Ideation

Written by jennifer marlowe
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Active Vs. Passive Suicidal Ideation
Learning the difference between active and passive suicidal thoughts may save someone's life. (Image by, courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt)

Few people survive a lifetime without experiencing a suicidal thought. However, these thoughts are rarely taken to the planning stages. How do you know, then, when someone's life is at stake?

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Suicidal Ideation

Suicidal ideation (suicidal thinking) varies in degrees. There's a gap between thinking about suicide and actually carrying out the act. Mental health professionals classify suicidal ideation as active or passive. Certain characteristics are common for each.

Passive Suicidal Ideation

Maybe the car broke down, a relationship ended or you lost a job. Stressful events in life may drive the best of us to think, "I wish I were dead." Fleeting thoughts, including wishful thinking, however, are considered passive because the thinker hasn't acted on the thoughts.

Active Suicidal Ideation

When someone's suicidal thinking has become active, the individual has taken steps to end his own life. Taking action for the depressed person could include writing a suicide note, giving meaningful items away or just planning how to "end it all."

How to Help

If a friend or family member confides they have been actively planning a suicide, take it very seriously. Seek professional help immediately. Don't leave the person alone until a mental health professional has completed an evaluation.

If someone admits to having passive suicidal thoughts, don't ignore that either. Talk with the person to get an idea of whether the thoughts were fleeting or a symptom of depression. Depression is a serious medical condition and needs to be addressed.

How to Behave

Show compassion instead of ignoring the situation or acting angry or shocked with a person having suicidal thoughts. Someone planning to end her own life is in desperate pain and wants the hurt to end. Suicide is not about ending a life. It's about ending the pain of severe depression.

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