Passive Suicide


CPTSD Foundation
9 min readSep 18, 2023

This article will tackle active suicide and may not be suitable for sensitive audiences.

Most of us recognize suicide as being something someone does to themselves to end their life. However, there is another type of suicide, passive. Passive suicide is just as deadly as active suicide and needs to be acknowledged.

This article, the third in our series on suicide, will tackle ways to recognize passive suicide and some things you can do to help.

What is Suicidal Ideation?

Our discussion of passive suicide must begin with understanding something about suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation, aka suicidal thoughts or ideas, is a term that describes a range of thoughts, wishes, and preoccupations with death.

Since there is no definitive set-in-stone definition of suicidal ideation, clinicians and researchers have a difficult time treating it.

The thoughts that accompany suicidal ideation include wishes to die, wishes one had never been born, and thoughts of not belonging to the world. All these thoughts can spiral into active or passive suicide.

What is Passive Suicide?

Active suicide and passive suicide are equally deadly and require immediate intervention by a mental health professional. Traditionally, women have been more likely to attempt to die by suicide than men, with men four times more likely than women to die because they often utilize firearms.

Unlike active suicide, where people use a weapon or other means to fatally harm themselves, passive suicide is more subtle. Perhaps the person wants to sleep all the time and avoids contact with other people remaining in bed hoping to die there. Perhaps the person avoids taking vital medications or eats large amounts of food when diabetic, both actions that can lead to complete suicide.

People who are affected by passive suicidal ideations have no complete plan of how they will die, but they do show signs that can be a warning to others that they are prone to suicidal behaviors.

  • Having a family history of suicide or suicidal ideations
  • Current or past abuse of substances
  • Experiencing a personal loss
  • Having a history of abuse or trauma
  • Having a mood disorder such as major depressive disorder
  • Suffering from a major physical illness
  • Having little to no support
  • Experiencing a lack of access to mental health care

If you recognize the above in yourself or someone you know, then read on to see the signs of a person contemplating suicide.

The Signs that Someone is Suicidal

Sometimes people can be passively suicidal for years and may not show on the outside that they are struggling. Critically, you must remember that passive suicidal thoughts and behaviors can very quickly turn to suicidal actions.

People experiencing active or passive suicidal ideation may display many symptoms that might go unrecognized by those around them. But if you know what warning signs to watch out for, you can act.

Some of the warning signs are as follows:

  • Making jokes or expressing a desire to die
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Looking for or gathering objects of suicide, such as prescription drugs or guns
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Experiencing a change in sleep patterns
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Withdrawing from life
  • Giving away meaningful personal things
  • Saying goodbye to loved ones and friends

It is vital to keep in mind that not all people will exhibit all of the symptoms. They may only exhibit one or two of the symptoms, so it is important to remain alert and know what to do if you or someone else are suicidal.

How are CPTSD and Passive Suicide Linked?

Complex traumatic stress disorder forms from exposure to severe and traumatic experiences, known as complex trauma. Following is a quote from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN).

“Complex trauma describes both children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events-often of an invasive, interpersonal nature-and the wide-ranging, long-term effects of this exposure. These events are severe and pervasive, such as abuse or profound neglect. They usually occur early in life and can disrupt many aspects of the child’s development and the formation of a sense of self. Since these events often occur with a caregiver, they interfere with the child’s ability to form a secure attachment. Many aspects of a child’s healthy physical and mental development rely on this primary source of safety and stability.”

An adult who survived childhood trauma is highly vulnerable to forming complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). CPTSD is characterized by flashbacks, an unstable mood, and sometimes feeling survivor’s remorse. Perhaps a better description of Complex PTSD comes from Beauty After Bruises.

“Complex PTSD comes in response to chronic traumatization over the course of months or, more often, years. This can include emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse, domestic violence, living in a war zone, being held captive, human trafficking, and other organized rings of abuse, and more. While there are exceptional circumstances where adults develop C-PTSD, it is most often seen in those whose trauma occurred in childhood.

For those who are older, being completely controlled by another person (often unable to meet their most basic needs without them), coupled with no foreseeable end in sight, can break down the psyche and the survivor’s sense of self and affect them on this deeper level. For those who go through this as children, because the brain is still developing and they’re just beginning to learn who they are as an individual, understand the world around them, and build their first relationships — severe trauma interrupts the entire course of their psychological and neurological development.”

As one might imagine, people who suffer from CPTSD may also be prone to suicidal ideation and both passive and active suicidal actions.

What You Can Do for a Loved One Who is Passively Suicidal

If you suspect someone you know is passively suicidal, you may feel upset and unsure of what to do. Perhaps you feel if you bring the subject up in conversation with them that, you will push them into suicidal actions.

That is a myth. Talking about suicide will not cause someone to die by suicide. Indeed, not talking about the subject can be very harmful to both you and your loved one.

The first thing to do is to begin asking questions. Don’t be afraid that the person may not love or like you anymore. This is their life we are talking about here not a popularity contest. Some sample questioning can help.

  • How are you feeling?
  • Do you feel as though you are giving up?
  • Do you think you don’t matter?
  • Are you thinking about dying?
  • Do you think the world would be better off without you?
  • Are you thinking about harming yourself?
  • Have you thought of when and how you will die?
  • Do you have a plan?
  • Do you have access to a means to harm yourself?

Asking questions something like the ones above allows your loved one a chance to talk about how they are feeling and may reduce that person’s risk of acting on their feelings.

Above all else, do not leave someone who is expressing that they are suicidal. Call 988 and tell the trauma support specialist on the other end of the line about what is happening. They will send a team of mental health professionals to your location to assist in evaluating and, if necessary, getting the person you love to help.

What To Do if You Are Suicidal

If it is you who is feeling suicidal, you may be feeling overwhelmed right now with the thought of living. Perhaps you cannot see yourself ever being happy or moving beyond what has happened to you.

Passively suicidal people like yourself may believe that your pain will all end when you die, but you have no definitive plan on how to do it; you just want to go to bed and wait for death.

Your feelings of pain are very real. But it’s important to know they can pass.

There are several things you can do at this moment that help you get through this moment that may change the way you feel about yourself and dying by suicide.

Make a crisis plan. It is critical that you form a crisis plan before you become suicidal and write it down for future use. Put in your plan people to call and the phone numbers of friends and family you want to speak with who can help you.

Attempt to stay in the now. Try not to focus on the future but to only think of the moment you are living in. By doing so, you may decide that this moment is okay and change your mind.

Don’t decide today. It is not necessary to act on your thoughts right this moment, and you may miss something wonderful that is just around the corner. Use your curiosity to help you live on.

Talk to someone. Tell someone else how you are feeling, including friends, family members, or your doctor. Please be patient, as your family and friends may not know what to do for you at first. If they do freeze up, help them by telling them what you need from them. Tell them how you are feeling and what is worrying you. A burden is much easier to endure if you are not alone.

Call 988 or your doctor. 988 is the national suicide prevention hotline in the United States. When you call 988, you will gain access to a sympathetic ear and sometimes a team of experts who can advise you on what to do and give you the encouragement you need. 988 is especially helpful for those who are isolated with no friends or family to turn to. Contacting your doctor or therapist is also crucial, as they can get you the help you need.

If you live outside the US, here is a list of phone numbers you can call to get help.

Ending Our Time Together

To be honest, writing about suicide is difficult and harder than any other subject except for incest. It could possibly be so because I have experienced suicidal actions and suicidal thoughts.

When I was in my early 30s, I became filled with dread and wishing I was not alive. One day, I awoke to a normal day and went about my normal activities. Around noon I sat down to eat lunch and take my noon medications. At that moment, I decided to overdose.

I had warnings that I was in trouble because I had been feeling passively suicidal, thinking thoughts like, “I don’t belong in this world” and “I wish I had never been born.” It is crazy how quickly I crossed the line between passive to active suicide.

I lived because my brother came to visit and recognized that I had overdosed.

I spent a week in the hospital recovering. To this day, I feel awed by the quickness of my decision that had started out so passive but almost took my life.

If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of either passive or active suicide, please don’t hesitate to get help.

The 988 hotline I’ve been talking about is a 24/7 free and confidential support line for those who are in distress and those who are with them. The 988 line will get you the resources you need to save a life.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” — Albert Einstein.

“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear hardship today.” — Thich Nhat Hanh.

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CPTSD Foundation

Successfully equipping complex trauma survivors and practitioners with compassionate support, skills, and trauma-informed education since 2014.