Facebook Connect The Complex Relationship Between PTSD and Suicide Tendencies

Why People with PTSD Have Suicidal Thoughts

People with PTSD face challenges every single day. These can range from those which are tough but manageable, such as difficulty focusing, to those that can be extremely harmful or even fatal. Suicidal thoughts are an example of the latter. Suicidal thoughts do not only include questioning whether it is worth continuing to live. They can also include fixating on death, ideas of how to go through with suicide, and the formation of actual plans. Without treatment, they can be difficult to see past.

Why do people with PTSD experience suicidal thoughts? We’ll go into some of the reasons, before discussing what you can do if you or a loved one are struggling with this.

Suicidal thoughts among PTSD sufferers

Suicidal Thoughts as a Symptom of PTSD

PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a mental health disorder that can occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. It is diagnosed when flashbacks, bad dreams, trouble sleeping, and other associated trauma responses persist weeks or months after the event takes place. The person’s body and mind have not accepted that there is no longer danger, remaining in a constant state of alertness.

It may seem strange that suicidal thoughts are a symptom of PTSD, which is triggered by the body’s self-preservation instincts. However, suicidal thoughts are a common symptom, and as many as 27% of people with PTSD attempt suicide. Let’s explore the connection.

Understanding the Why

There are a number of reasons people with PTSD experience suicidal thoughts. For each individual, one or more of these reasons might apply.

Overwhelming Emotions

Living with PTSD means grappling with intense emotions that can often get overwhelming. Their experience of trauma, and reliving the event over and over again, can lead to feelings of despair, hopelessness, and a profound sense of loss. These emotions can build up until they are so powerful that it becomes difficult to see past them. With a sense that there is no hope left for them, suicide may seem like the only way to escape the pain.

In addition, the numbness associated with depression is often related to unprocessed emotions that have become overwhelming. A person with PTSD may begin to struggle to feel the difficult emotions, leading to a dissociation with life and making it seem like there is no point going on.

Hyperarousal and Sleep Disturbances

The constant state of “fight or flight” associated with PTSD can lead to chronic stress and hyperarousal, making it difficult to find peace or rest. Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia and nightmares, are common. When a person has not had enough restful sleep and is constantly fatigued, they face an uphill battle when trying to cope with daily stresses, as well as the other challenges presented by PTSD. This adds to the sense of being overwhelmed and can intensify suicidal thoughts.

Isolation and Withdrawal

People with PTSD may withdraw from friends, family, and activities they once enjoyed, leading to isolation. This isolation can intensify feelings of loneliness and the belief that one is a burden to others, with the distorted idea that their loved ones would be better off without them. They may reject support and exacerbate their suffering with no one to talk to.

Shame and Guilt

Trauma survivors often struggle with feelings of shame and guilt, believing they are somehow to blame for the events that occurred. They may also experience survivor’s guilt if others died in the traumatic event. These feelings can erode self-esteem and foster a belief that they do not deserve happiness or life.

Substance Abuse

To cope with the symptoms of PTSD, some individuals turn to drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse can impair judgment, increase impulsivity, and exacerbate feelings of depression, significantly heightening the risk of suicide. Hangovers and withdrawal from drugs and alcohol can intensify suicidal thoughts as well.

Breaking the Silence

Suicidal thoughts seem scary to both the person with PTSD and their loved ones. For this reason, many people do not talk about experiencing them. Instead, they keep them inside and hope they’ll go away on their own. However, healing often begins with sharing what is going on in one’s head. By breaking the silence, the person no longer has to deal with these troubling thoughts alone. They also make it clear that they need support and professional help.

It is important for loved ones of people with suicidal thoughts to be present and actively listen, and not follow the instinct to ameliorate the situation with platitudes or advice about positive thinking. It is crucial to make it clear that you are taking the person’s words seriously and that you understand they are suffering. Knowing you are on their side will help them bear the burden, while it gives you the chance to help them in getting professional support.

Professional Support and Treatment

The good news is that professional treatment for PTSD can be highly effective, with suicidal thoughts becoming less intense and eventually dissipating. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is especially useful for challenging the logic of those thoughts and seeing that they don’t align with reality, no matter how convincing they might seem. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) has become another popular treatment for PTSD and it has helped many people in the US and around the world. Medication can also be highly effective in managing symptoms.

Since isolation exacerbates suicidal thoughts, getting support from others is crucial. In addition to support from friends and family, there support groups that provide a sense of community and understanding are available for people with PTSD.


PTSD is a serious mental illness that requires professional support. Suicidal thoughts are one aspect of PTSD that is often overlooked but can cause significant damage. Many people with PTSD have found healing in therapy, medication, and support groups.

If you or someone you love is currently experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s crucial to seek immediate help. Suicidal thoughts are a sign of extreme distress and should never be ignored. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or text “HELLO” to 741741 to get help now.