I don’t want to live, but I don’t want to die.

Does this thought feel familiar? If so, you are not alone. Many people who struggle with their mental health have experienced similar thoughts and feelings.

Not everyone who thinks about dying wants to die. It is important to recognize the difference between passive and active suicidal thoughts (or ideation). Passive suicidal thoughts are thoughts you have about dying without actually having a plan. Active suicidal ideation includes making plans to end your life.

If you feel actively suicidal or have a plan, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text “MHA” to 741-741 to talk to a trained counselor from the Crisis Text Line.

In my 11th grade English class, we were asked to read The Awakening by Kate Chopin. In the novel, the main character completes suicide to escape the pressures and expectations she felt. During our class discussion, I spent a bit too much time defending her decision. It was normal to want to die, right? I did not know it at the time, but my compassion for this character likely stemmed from my undiagnosed depression. I feel certain that I was not the only person in the room who felt this way.

Taylor A., Virginia

Where do these feelings come from?

Many people think about dying to help manage or end mental and emotional pain. Every person’s experience is different—it’s important to understand when passive suicidal thoughts become harmful to your safety. Consider the feelings behind these thoughts. Understanding the source can help you better manage the thoughts and prevent a crisis from occurring.

Are you feeling:

  • Hopeless? At your lowest, your mind can be dominated with thoughts preventing you from feeling hopeful. It feels like tunnel vision. Try to remember things, no matter how big or small, that made you feel hopeful in the past. Have you accomplished something that made you proud—even something small? Are there photos that make you smile—of friends, family, or cute animals?
  • Exhausted? Maybe life has thrown so much at you that you feel like you don’t have the energy to go on. It is okay to want to take a temporary break from reality. The key word here is temporary. Taking time to focus on self-care is actually a selfless act: when you take care of yourself, you have more energy to give to others.
  • In grief? Have you recently lost someone or something that was a big part of your life? Dealing with loss and grief is so difficult. As you have probably heard, grieving is a process that takes time to eventually feel better.
  • Aimless? Maybe your life feels like it is at a dead end. It’s okay to feel stuck—but remember that this is usually a temporary feeling. If you wake up feeling aimless, set your intention or purpose for the day. It could be as simple as taking a relaxing bath or cooking a healthy meal. Take things one day at a time, or even an hour at a time.
  • Reckless? Maybe the things that keep you safe, like seatbelts, no longer mean much to you. Are you intentionally or unintentionally putting yourself in harm’s way? Think about how your thoughts and feelings may be affecting your behavior.
  • Afraid of letting others down? Feeling like a burden to others is common for people struggling with their mental health, but you do not have to carry these feelings alone. Try to surround yourself with people who support you. Sometimes, having a conversation with your loved ones can help—we’re often harder on ourselves than others are.

Give yourself some credit

Having suicidal thoughts can be a scary experience! Because these thoughts are so extreme, it’s easy to fixate on them, and not give yourself credit for the positive feelings you also may be experiencing. If you’re reading this, there’s a part of you that wants to go on living. It’s possible to nurture that part of you, to make it stronger.

Think about the reasons you don’t want to die. It doesn’t have to be some deep sense of purpose—it could be as simple as not wanting to miss the next season of your favorite show. (Being afraid to die could also be a starting point.) Once you start acknowledging the small reasons to keep on going, you’ll realize you have more to live for than you may have thought.

Finding support

With that said, suicidal thoughts should be taken seriously. It’s important to address these thoughts when they occur. If you are having passive suicidal thoughts, it can help you feel less alone to share these concerns with a person you trust. Put some distance between your thoughts and behaviors and talk to someone (whether it be a friend, parent, or counselor) about how you are feeling.

Here is a template for how to begin the conversation:

For the past (day/week/month/______), I have been feeling (hopeless and exhausted). I have struggled with (thoughts about dying). Telling you this makes me feel (nervous), but I’m telling you this because (I’m worried about myself and I don’t know what to do). I would like to (talk more about this) and I need your help.

It is completely normal to feel a variety of feelings, including confusion, loneliness, and apathy, when struggling with suicidal thoughts. Just know that you are not alone: seeking help can be the first step in alleviating the feelings and pressure of these thoughts.

Join a research study on technology for suicide prevention

You are invited to participate in a National Institute of Mental Health-sponsored research project through Northwestern University for young adults (ages 18-24) on suicide prevention with the chance to earn up to $80. If you are interested, please click this link to learn more about the study and answer questions to see if you are eligible. IRB Study #: STU00217191

Was this helpful?(Required)
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Did this article help you feel more hopeful about your mental health?(Required)
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Did this article help you feel more confident in managing your mental health?(Required)
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Did this article help increase your knowledge and understanding of mental health?(Required)
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.