Suicide Thoughts Can Be Active Or Passive, But What’s The Difference?

There is a tendency for people to step back when the subject of suicide comes up, but the reverse should happen.

A study published in the National Library of Medicine suggests social support may reduce suicide attempts. Suicide attempts are 30% less likely in individuals with high social support.

Although suicide conversations have become more common, people still avoid the topic. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, so it is a perfect time to educate about passive and active suicidality.

Passive Suicidal Ideation: What Is It?

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Suicidal ideation exists in two forms: passive and active. The intent and plan accompany the words that distinguish passive and active suicidal ideation.

Dr. Kristin Gill, a board-certified psychiatrist, said, “We refer to suicidal ideation as ‘passive’ when an individual expresses thoughts about death or a wish to die or to no longer be alive, but have no plan to end their life.”

Active Suicidal Ideation: What Is It?

Licensed therapist Kristen Gingrich, who has worked with clients experiencing suicidal ideation for over eight years, says active ideation is different.

She explains, “Active suicidal ideation is when a person has thoughts of wanting to harm themselves that have an actual plan, means, and intent behind them.”

A person experiencing suicidal thoughts should also watch for any behavioral changes since sometimes active suicidal ideation may not be apparent in what they say but in their behavior.

Suicidal Ideation: How To Help

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The first thing you should do if you hear someone is struggling with passive or active suicidal thoughts. Gingrich says, “Asking direct questions like, ‘Are you thinking about hurting yourself right now?’ is key in these moments.”

Helping someone access resources like local crisis centers, national crisis lines, or local mental health services can help someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts in addition to checking in with and supporting them.

Refusing Help: How To Cope

“Although we wish we could, we can’t force someone to get help if they refuse. We should continue to provide support and resources and set boundaries for ourselves when needed.”

She suggests, “you may need to notify local authorities to assist the person, even though it may harm your relationship.”