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What is the difference between passive and active suicidal ideation. 

It wasn't until recently that I learned the difference between passive and active suicidal ideation. I had no idea that there was even a difference. In my mind suicidal thoughts were just that thoughts about attempting suicide. 

In a nutshell suicidal ideation means thinking about or wanting to take your own life. However there are two different types. 

Passive and active suicidal ideation. 

First let’s talk about passive.  Passive occurs when you wish that you were dead or that you want to die but you don’t actually have a plan. Often times people have very negative thoughts all the time. “I wish I would just die.“ “If I don’t wake up in the morning I’d be happy.”  “I don’t care if I die.” Often these thoughts are fleeting and come and go throughout the day.  

Let’s talk about active suicidal ideation. Active is thinking about suicide but the biggest difference is actually having a plan with a plan to carry it out.   

When I have somebody tell me that they have a loved one that has thoughts of suicide the first thing I tell them to do is to ask them if they have a plan. This will dictate what your next steps are.

Let’s look at a few symptoms or warning signs.



Feelings of hopelessness

Giving away possessions

Mood swings

Accessing items that would make an attempt easy

Saying goodbye

Feeling extremely anxious

Extreme tiredness

Risky behavior

What to do?  

If you have a loved one that has any of these symptoms or you have a feeling that they may be thinking about suicide, ask them. Point blank “are you thinking about attempting suicide”. Studies show that asking someone if they are considering suicide does not “plant the seed or give them the idea”. Chances are if they are suicidal they have been considering it for a while. Asking them shows that you care and may be the one thing that saves their life. 

If your loved one says yes, your next question should be “do you have a plan?“. 

If your loved one does have a plan it is very important to notify their mental health care professional or call a national suicide hotline.  Do not leave them alone.  If necessary take them to your local emergency room.  

An important note: passive suicidal ideation (wishing you would die in your sleep or wanting to die but no plan) is no less serious than active suicidal ideation. It can quickly turn active.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline. 


If you have a loved one thinking about suicide please reach out to them.  Be with them.  Tell them you are there for them.  Stay in touch.  Talking about suicide does NOT increase the risk of them attempting.   

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  1. I always heard that part that if you ask, it’s like you’re giving them the idea if they haven’t had it. It’s good to know that is not necessarily true!
  2. I’m really glad you shared this. I believe that these terms are very important for everyone to understand & possibly prevent suicide.

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