I believe that being suicidal is not the same thing as simply wanting to die. Of course, if you’re suicidal, you do want to die (or, more specifically, to end your pain through death) but, if you simply want to die, you may not be actively suicidal. Please understand that wanting to die and being suicidal are both serious and dangerous, but I would suggest they are not the same.
Wanting to Die
I admit it — I’ve spent so much of my life wanting to die. I know people hate to hear this, but even today, I experience the desire to die at times. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with my life or my experiences, it’s just that there’s something wrong with my brain. And in my brain, the thought that repeats is, “I want to die.” It’s on an endless loop sometimes. It’s torturous. I can’t stand it. There seems to be nothing that will adequately quiet the thought.
I can sit in this wanting-to-die state for days, weeks or months. The state seems immovable.
In saying that, I haven’t been suicidal that entire time. In my opinion, being suicidal moves you from the realm of wanting to die to the place where you are actively start taking steps to die by suicide. This might be picturing your death, writing a suicide note or making a plan. I tend to picture my death over and over and over. Again, my brain seems to produce this thought endlessly.
It seems that nothing will move my brain from this place until the medication kicks in.
(I’ve also written a suicide self-assessment scale – but please understand that it is produced by me and in no way scientific.)
The Difference Between Being Suicidal and Wanting to Die
In my experience, wanting to die is passive and being suicidal is active. Thus, being suicidal is considerably more dangerous. I’m not saying that a passive desire to die can’t hurt you – certainly it can – but I would suggest that being actively suicidal is more of an emergency situation.
Why does the difference between suicidality and wanting to die matter? Well, I think it impacts how you communicate your feelings. For example, when I simply want to die, I don’t feel that I’m in imminent danger but I know that feeling and thought pattern could be a stepping stone to full-blown suicidality so I need to deal with it and absolutely not ignore it.
If, on the other hand, I’m actively suicidal, that’s the time when a suicide safety plans needs to be put into place and even a trip to the hospital may need to be arranged.
While I absolutely think that both states need to be recognized and dealt with, I still think it’s important to recognize the difference between a serious problem and an emergency situation.
Regardless, if you are feeling either one of these things, you need to know that treatment helps – in fact, treatment is the only thing that does (if you ask me). That might be talking to your therapist or doctor, but definitely talk to a professional. Hopefully you can successfully communicate your specific state and your professional can assess your active risk for harm and get you the help that you need.
If you feel you may hurt yourself or someone else, please call 9-1-1 now if it comes down to your life or a three digit number, your life wins every time. That is what emergency personnel are there for. You can also see my page on suicide and mental illness help which includes information on hotlines.
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.