Ways to Recognize Suicidal Thoughts

September 9, 2020 Jennifer Lear

Trigger warning: This post contains a frank discussion of suicidal thoughts and ideations. 

Recognizing suicidal thoughts in yourself or others isn't always easy. The problem is, suicidal thoughts don't always look like you think they should.

In my case, I remember watching the traffic thunder past the window, and thinking "I could just run out and let one of those trucks hit me. It'd be over in seconds." I pondered the idea for a moment, then resumed my position on the couch. I wasn't even upset. You see, for me, the desire to end my own life didn't come in a flurry of tears and threats — it came quietly, with a creeping realization that I simply didn't care enough about my own life to continue it. Suicidal thoughts affect every individual differently, and it is vitally important that we know how to recognize them — even if they don't look like we would expect.

Coping with Depression Can Make It Harder to Recognize Suicidal Thoughts

In 2014, I had a breakdown: a full-on, lose-your-job, stop-leaving-your-house, stop-bathing breakdown. My severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and my attempts to hide it over a period of years had led me to fall into the worst depression I had ever known, and my brain seemed to have given up. I spent my days either on the couch, or pacing my hallway in a bathrobe, all while replying to messages from friends with, "I'm fine! Work's great! I'm sorry I couldn't make it last night — I'm just so swamped."

I was incredibly fortunate to have an amazing partner to support me through this time, but he had a job (one of us had to), and so I got used to being alone, with only my thoughts for company.

When I think back to that time, what I remember more than anything is the feeling that I was a failure — a failure as a partner, a failure as a daughter, a failure as a friend. At just 24, I had become an unemployed hermit, contributing nothing to the world or the lives of the people I supposedly loved, other than the pain of seeing someone they cared about sink so low.

I quickly settled into this way of thinking about myself, and into thinking that my death would probably be the best possible conclusion to the whole sorry affair. I didn't have a plan to actively take my own life — I just stopped caring about my own wellbeing, and secretly hoped someone or something would come along to take the burden of being alive off my hands. 

Suicidal Thoughts Can Be Difficult to Recognize

And yet, if you were to ask me during that time whether I was suicidal, I would have said no, because I wasn't sitting at my kitchen table clutching an empty bottle of vodka and staring at a pile of pills. I wasn't holding a razor in front of the bathroom mirror. I just didn't care.

Now I realize just how shallow my understanding of suicidality was at the time because really, that complete lack of self-interest and self-care is a form of suicidality that can quickly develop into serious intentions. 

Other People Can Help You Recognize Suicidal Thoughts

Luckily for me, I lived with a man who recognized my suicidal thoughts from the condition of our house, the way my shoulders sagged, and the way my laugh seemed hollow, and knew that I was in serious trouble. He encouraged me to open up about my feelings and seek help from a therapist — both of which I did — and I stand here six years later, an infinitely happier, more confident, more complete person.

Before 2014, my only experience of suicidality was what I had seen on TV or in movies. I assumed that the feelings which accompanied it would be so powerful and dramatic that it would be easy to spot. What I didn't know was that it is possible to be suicidal without even realizing it and that subtly suicidal thoughts can hop like parasites onto the back of a depressive episode, and you can find yourself in a very dangerous state of mind without even being aware of it.

So if you are experiencing depression and having thoughts like the ones I describe above, please tell someone and please seek professional help. You are worth saving — even if you don't feel that way right now. 

How do you recognize suicidal thoughts in yourself? Share your comments below.

If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately. 

Fore 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. 

APA Reference
Lear, J. (2020, September 9). Ways to Recognize Suicidal Thoughts, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 14 from

Author: Jennifer Lear

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