Content warning: While this post discusses a powerful way to decrease passive suicidal thoughts, it also discusses the experience of living with suicidal thoughts. This may be challenging to read for some members of our community. Please keep yourself safe and take care of your mental health first, if this post feels heavy, we gently encourage you to skip it.

Did you know there’s different types of suicidal thoughts? Have you heard them referred to in different ways and wondered what they were, or wondered where yours fall on the spectrum? Sometimes this can be an uncomfortable conversation to have with your therapist or doctor, so today we’d like to help you learn the difference so that you can care for yourself in the most appropriate way, as well as offer some information on how to help decrease suicidal thoughts.

There are two common types of suicidal thoughts: active suicidal thoughts and passive suicidal thoughts, and there’s a few important points that make up the difference between these two types of thoughts.

  • Active suicidal thoughts: Active suicidal thoughts mean having an active intention to take your life. These thoughts include things like a plan to follow through with suicide and possibly having in your possession (or getting ahold of) the items needed to follow through with suicide. Being actively suicidal means you’re not only thinking about taking your life, but you have the intention of doing it and are planning for it.
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  • Passive suicidal thoughts: Passive suicidal thoughts don’t include the active intention to take your life and they don’t include making or considering any type of plans to do so. Passive suicidal thoughts can be things like I don’t want to be here anymore, or "the world would be better off without me", without the intention of following through.

 

As a gentle reminder, active suicidal thoughts should always be approached by reaching out for help, which is one of the bravest things you can do when suicidal. Your brain is actively, and loudly, telling you that you’re not worth the help, and that your life isn’t worth saving. To reach out to a friend, family member, your therapist or doctor, or someone else you trust, is to rebel against those thoughts and show them that you are stronger than them. And you are! Please remember you are worthy and there is a reason you’re here. If you need help with where to reach out to, visit our mental health resources here.

On the other hand, passive suicidal thoughts can be relentless and incredibly frustrating, and if you struggle with ongoing passive suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. They’re more common than we realize. If you find your passive suicidal thoughts becoming more urgent or constant, the best course of action is to discuss them with your doctor or therapist so they can appropriately evaluate risk. Passive suicidal thoughts can become active when they’re exacerbated by a difficult or triggering situation, or when mental health issues progress or are not treated. But there’s also a type of passive suicidal thought pattern that often remains even after we’ve been in treatment, gotten help with our mental health, and began making progress. These passive suicidal thoughts are persistent and unnerving, and it can be easy to find yourself confused as to why you’re still having these thoughts. Know that it is okay to feel this way and your confusion and frustration are valid and normal.

When someone has spent a long period of time with suicidal thoughts, even once they begin to find themselves lifting out of depression, their brain often uses suicidal thoughts as a default whenever they run into stress or challenges. While other people find themselves stressed at work or with the kids and can de-stress by imagining themselves lying on a beach in Mexico soaking up the sunshine, someone who has spent time with suicidal thoughts will often by default immediately have a suicidal thought in response to stress. Their brain has decided that the solution to stress is to be dead, because if they were dead, they wouldn’t be experiencing this stress. This makes the passive suicidal thought involuntary, it’s a biological reaction to stress and doesn’t mean you want to die or that you’re going backwards in your recovery. It means something as simple as stubbing your toe or dropping food on the floor can trigger an involuntary passive suicidal thought, so you can imagine how intrusive the thoughts can be when you experience a larger stressor. It’s an indication that your brain is using old pathways, and to help decrease these thoughts, we have to create new pathways!

How do you do this? A technique called thought stopping can be very effective in transforming these default suicidal thoughts into less intrusive and disturbing ones. With thought stopping, you will imagine a scene or situation that is very relaxing for you. Maybe you’re on the couch at night with a bowl of popcorn and your favorite movie, curled up with a fuzzy blanket. Maybe you’re enjoying a meal at your favorite restaurant with your partner. Maybe you’re in a hot bath with lavender oil and candles burning and a good book. You get to set this scene, down to the very last detail! Have fun with this, make it as elaborate as you’d like. The more details, the better.

Now, whenever you experience stress or tension and find that those passive suicidal thoughts come up, you consciously make the decision to begin thinking about this relaxing scene you’ve created. At first you will have to force this thought, and it won’t feel natural or comfortable. You will have to actively make yourself imagine your scene. One great way to emerge yourself in it is to imagine the sights, smells, sounds you would experience in that particular situation. Imagine the smell of the lavender oil in your bath, the smell of the fresh cut grass underneath your back, or the sound of the music in your favorite movie. This can help ground you in your scene and truly bring it to life for you.

As you do this, you’re replacing the suicidal thoughts with this new thought, the relaxing scene, and over time, as you use the new thought of your relaxing scene more and more and use the suicidal thoughts less, your new thought will begin to become your default.

If you’re someone who experiences ongoing passive suicidal thoughts, this technique can help free you from those thoughts. You don’t have to live that way, you deserve to live without intrusive thoughts and while many people think they just have to live with chronic suicidal thoughts, this can be a way to decrease them and allow your brain to create new neural pathways that serve you better. Remember that this technique takes time, and continue to practice it. When you get frustrated, allow your frustration, be gentle with yourself, practice self-care, and then try again next time.

As a reminder, if you find your passive suicidal thoughts intensifying or becoming more consistent and intrusive, even while practicing this technique, reach out to your therapist or doctor to help with measures to prevent the thoughts from becoming active and putting you at higher risk. Here are some mental health resources that can help you find a therapist, a hotline to reach out to, and more. Reaching out for help is brave and courageous, and we want you to know you’re here for a purpose and we’re here to support you.