23 People Explain What It's Like to Have Suicidal Thoughts When You're Not Suicidal
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
It’s a complicated thing to explain — what it’s like to have suicidal thoughts, but not want to die. For some, it’s a constant weight of feeling like you don’t deserve to live. For others, it might be a persistent but passing thought. A fly that won’t leave you alone.
Whatever the extent of it, the fact that people can have suicidal thoughts when they have no active plans to kill themselves is something we need to talk about. There’s nothing shameful about experiencing suicidal thoughts, and a person should not have to reach a breaking point before they can reach out for support.
To understand more, we asked people in our mental health community to share what they wish they could tell others about having suicidal thoughts when they have no intent of dying by suicide.
Here’s what they shared with us:
1. “It’s like randomly imagining what life around you would be like if you didn’t exist anymore. It’s like having random daydreams about dying in different ways. It’s not always looking both ways when you cross the street, not because you want to die, but because you don’t not want to die… it’s having this numbing ache inside you don’t know how to mute.”
2. “Sometimes my anxiety causes me to feel trapped and overwhelmed. Thoughts of my death (not necessarily suicide) are a fantasy of escape. And escape where you don’t feel guilty, scared or pressured anymore.”
3. “I have intrusive thoughts about suicide, even when my moods are relatively stable. I sometimes have images and thoughts popping up. These thoughts feel obsessive some days. I am grateful I don’t actually feel like doing any such thing that would end my life.”
4. “I once told my therapist I never pictured myself as an old person. That I didn’t think I’d ever make it there. Some days I just want to disappear. To escape the voices in my head telling me how awful I am, how I’m such a burden to everyone, how fat I am, etc. The cacophony is enough to make you want to rip your brain out of your head.”
5. “The best way I’ve found to describe it is that suicidal *thoughts* can be fleeting. In fact, I’ve met many people who have never been suicidal who have wondered what it might be like. The problem for those of us who have been suicidal is that the *thought* of suicide brings up all those old emotions, sort of like PTSD. Even writing this response has made my thoughts turn to — “Well, I *could* just go ahead and do it…” But right now, I’m not suicidal, and I actually am in a pretty good place with regard to my mental health. So why does this voice go on in the back of my mind? Because I’m sick, y’all.”
6. “Think of it like getting a cold. You can drink orange juice and take vitamins and take care of yourself as much as you possibly can, and you might be in the healthiest shape of your life. And then you start sneezing, and your nose starts running. You never know when or where it’s going to happen; it just does, and there’s often little you can do to prevent it. So you just keep moving on, accepting it’s a part of you or that it’s simply not something you can control. That’s all we can do.”
7. “It’s less about killing myself and more about ceasing to exist. I want the people around me to not be bothered by my incompetence, insecurities and the trouble I feel I cause them. Sometimes it’s just a call for momentary relief.”
8. “They’re fleeting but frequent thoughts that attack you even when you feel completely fine. Sorta like an annoying fly buzzing around you constantly.”
9. “I am so overwhelmed and stressed out by what seems like everything. The world is just crashing down on me. I just want the stress to be gone. My chest just aches like it’s getting crushed. My mind is like having 100+ internet tabs open and one of them has an ad that is playing music so you gotta rush to find it to make the ad stop, but all you find is more random tabs with no ad (if that makes any sense). My mind is all over the place, and all I want to happen is for it to stop. Freeze. Be calm. Don’t want to die. That’s too permanent. To be able to pause or disappear away from everything though is a nice thought.”
10. “I often describe it as being passively suicidal. I wake up in the morning and wish I hadn’t, I close my eyes at night hoping it’ll be the last time .. It’s not like I want to end my life, like when I’m actively suicidal, but I don’t want to live. It’s lonely and it’s scary and something that goes through my head every single day.”
11. “It’s overwhelming. You know you don’t want to kill yourself, but the thoughts just won’t leave your head. I battle this every single day of my life. I have everything to live for yet the thoughts don’t want to move from my brain. It’s like being trapped in a brain you’re unfamiliar with… it’s like walking into a room full of family and only seeing complete strangers.”
12. “It’s almost like this nagging feeling or voice. You’re out living life. The sun is shining, your favorite song is playing but something feels off. You suddenly get a brief flash of ‘What if’ and it passes so quickly you don’t really process it. Until the music stops. Then it comes again. And lingers. Kind of like when your phone keeps going off and distracting you. Until eventually you have to answer it. (Or in this case, dwell on the thought.)”
13. “Being angry with hope. Being frustrated with faith. Resenting the reasons to stay alive… Self-hate. Self-hate. Self-hate. People hate. People hate. People hate. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. Futility, oh my god, the overwhelming futility. Knowing it’s not futile. Arguing with yourself over whether or not it is. Not wanting to die but not wanting to feel worthless any more. Not wanting to die but not wanting that tight aching physical pain in the heart/stomach/head any more. Not wanting to die but not wanting to be living in fear forever…. What if I get ill and die now because I’ve wished myself dead? (I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, please don’t let me die!)”
14. “It’s like going into an art room full of beautiful paintings, and then the lights turn off and written in invisible ink everywhere are these dark thoughts… then as soon as the lights come back on you see just beautiful paintings — although you know hidden somewhere are these suicidal thoughts and you’re just waiting until they resurface.”
15. “Some of my worst points was the ‘other me’ in my head shouting at me, feeling like it was attacking my brain physically… Another version of this would be like it is trying to slyly coax me into doing this things, like the snake in ‘The Jungle Book.'”
16. “It’s not really the thought, ‘I want to kill myself,’ but more, ‘I don’t care if I die.’ Situations that most people would have fear in don’t always bother me. Or I imagine things happening that would cause death. But these are just passive thoughts, they may always be there, but I am learning to fight them.”
17. “I have a lot of intrusive thoughts, regardless of how stable my mental health is. It’s like everything will be OK, and I’ll be happy and content or at the very least, I’ll be feeling relatively neutral, and all of a sudden my brain will say something like, ‘Just swerve into the concrete barrier,’ or, ‘You could jump off these stairs right now.’ In these moments, I don’t want to kill myself, but the thought of doing so is always there. It’s like a tiny switch in my brain — it isn’t triggered all the way so as to cause a suicidal crisis, but it’s just nudged a little bit so that it’s almost on.”
18. “Suicidal thoughts are a daily occurrence for me, even if I’m not totally low or really wanting to die… They’re passive thoughts, but they’re always there even when I’m having a good day.”
19. “It’s intrusive thoughts that make no sense to you, but they refuse to leave. It’s a feeling that sweeps across your mind like a fog. An evil inner self-voice that taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear on your darkest days. It’s pondering different ways and scenarios you could do it, but never actually planning it. Just because I don’t want to actually go through with killing myself doesn’t mean my mental health isn’t affected by these intrusive thoughts that insist I would be better off if I did. I know how much it would hurt those I love, and all I want is the thoughts of wanting to harm or end myself to be gone. When you struggle with mental illness, anxiety, depression etc., sometimes thoughts invade your mind without even wanting them.”
20. “It’s like being behind a one-way mirror. You can see the world around you going about their daily lives, but you aren’t present in it. You’re merely a spectator. And no one even notices you because all they see is their reflection. All they see (care about) is themselves and the world around them. They never see you, and you feel they don’t care about you. And then your mind begins to wonder. Is my existence significant? I’m already living like I don’t exist, so why should I continue living? It’s one of the most frustrating feelings because you want to be on the other side of the mirror. You want people to notice and to care. It’s this dull aching in your heart that never goes away and you just want it to stop.”
21. “One of my favorite quotes about this: ‘Depression is the inability to construct a future.’ That’s completely true. Even if you aren’t actively looking to end your life, you can’t imagine going on. Every day you feel like it’s too much and that you don’t belong, hoping that some outside force might just end it for you.” — Stacy T.
22. “For me, it’s like the annoying devil character on your shoulder… like you are fine but this dark annoying thing keeps whispering into your ear these awful thoughts. And sometimes it’s not thoughts, it’s just images. Like I will be just going about my day and I will get these random suicidal images in my head. Almost like someone mis-filed a photo in your daily slideshow.”
23. “It’s a spectrum. Suicidal thoughts aren’t always actively planning your death. Sometimes, it’s a random, uncontrollable thought that you’d rather not be alive. Sometimes it’s an impulse to do something self-destructive. Sometimes it’s ‘playing’ with the idea while telling yourself you’re not serious about it. ‘Suicidal thoughts’ encompasses a wide range of thoughts and ideas.”
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.