Do You Wish You Could Go to Sleep and Never Wake Up?

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“If only I could go to sleep forever.”

“I want to die.”

“I wish I’d never been born.”

Do you ever have thoughts like these, and you do not want to kill yourself? Many people do. They want their life to end, but they don’t want to end their life.

If you’re one of those people, you probably don’t think of yourself as suicidal. It might surprise you to know that, in clinical parlance, such thoughts are considered to be “passive” suicidal ideation.

What is Suicidality?

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Technically speaking, the term “passive suicidal thoughts” is an oxymoron. The very meaning of suicide is the intentional act of killing oneself. How can someone be suicidal if they don’t want to die by suicide?

That’s where “passive” comes in. People with passive suicidal thoughts don’t want to do anything to make themselves die. They wish it would just happen.

Suicidality – that is, suicidal thoughts or behavior – exists on a spectrum. At one end are people who wish they weren’t alive anymore but also don’t think of suicide. At the other end of the spectrum are people with extremely high intent to end their life now, or maybe they’ve even just made a suicide attempt.

At points in between are different gradations of suicidality. Some people think of killing themselves but quickly reject the idea. Some want to die by suicide and make a plan but don’t intend to carry it out. Some want, plan, and intend to die by suicide but not any time soon. Those are just a few possibilities.

The Dangers of Passive Suicidal Thoughts

Research indicates that people with passive vs. active suicidal thoughts are at equal risk for attempting suicide. We don’t know why, but it’s reasonable to hypothesize that passive suicidal thoughts can swiftly change from “I want to be dead” to “I want to kill myself.”

It’s also possible (though this hasn’t been researched specifically) that risk factors for passive suicidal thoughts are similar to risk factors for suicide itself. These risk factors might include mental or physical pain, hopelessness, illness, stress, loss, trauma, poverty, unemployment, relationship problems, isolation, substance abuse or addiction, sleep disturbance, and more.

In short, people who wish they were dead share something important with people who want to kill themselves: Both groups want their pain or problems to end.

Passive suicidality can lead people to put themselves in danger. For example, they might not wear a seatbelt or drive carefully. They might use too many drugs or drink too much or pick fights with strangers. They’re not trying to kill themselves (at least, not consciously), but they also don’t care if they get killed.

So, if you have passive suicidal thoughts, please take good care of yourself. You may be at higher risk than average for death. I realize that if you want to die, you might welcome such news. But please, recognize the wish for death as a symptom of something in your life, or inside of you, that needs healing. Healing, not killing.

How to Get Help

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Please, talk with somebody about how you’re feeling. Sharing your thoughts with a trusted friend, family member, teacher, doctor, minister or other person (or people) serves two purposes: One, they can try to help you. Two, you may not feel so alone. 

The resources that I list on this website are available to all people in distress, whether or not they think explicitly of suicide: hotlines, crisis text lines, online chat, and more. 

Therapy can address why you want to die, and how to feel better. If therapy is out of reach for you financially, take a look at the post, “12 Ways to Get Therapy if You Can’t Afford It.” You also might want to see a doctor to make sure there’s no physical condition, like depression or a thyroid problem, that’s triggering thoughts of death.

A safety plan is helpful, too, in case your desire for death morphs into fantasizing about, or making plans to, kill yourself. A safety plan lays out the steps you can take to cope, get help, and stay safe if suicidal thoughts put you in danger. You can find a form for completing a safety plan here.

People who want to be dead often feel hopeless. Consider filling up a hope box (real or virtual) with reminders of the people, places, hopes, and possibilities that make life worth living.

In any case, I hope you will get help. Even if you don’t want to take action to end your life, the important thing is that you’re hurting or otherwise unhappy. There are many things you can try to feel better, heal, and like being alive.   

Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, is the author of “Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals,” a psychotherapist and consultant, and an associate professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work.

Copyright 2020 by Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW. Written for SpeakingOfSuicide.com. All Rights Reserved.

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  1. Anon says:

    Not sure what you’re saying here that hasn’t already been said ad nauseam– talk to someone, “get help.” These are very weak, feminine approaches towards something that needs to be addressed with a “fix it this way” plan. Questions like “what can make you feel like living” is a start. Developing a plan around that answer is a step after that. Pulling resources to help the afflicted is a step after that.

  2. Brad says:

    I sure appreciate this site. Thank you!

  3. Julie says:

    I’ve always been depressed, even as a kid there was nothing I really enjoyed, the concept of enjoying anything in life is beyond me. It was all just ok, nothing was terrible (until a bit later), school was ok, friends were ok, I wasn’t bullied or anything I just didn’t like anything. We’d go on holiday and I’d spend most of the time in the car asleep-always slept a lot, I get around 10-12hrs sleep usually and spend even longer than that in bed. I hated myself for it but I just didn’t want to do anything else and didn’t like being me.
    First time I thought about suicide I must’ve been about 12-I just hated having to be on this planet. Life got MUCH worse for me with various terrible things that happened (my dads death and other stuff) and I’ve seen some horrific suffering that is so hard to deal with, but I realised finally that if all that stuff hadn’t have happened I’d still be the same, still wouldn’t have done anything, still would hate being alive because I’ve felt like this since I was practically born. I don’t know how close I ever came to committing suicide as I’m still here-I just don’t want to mess it up and have it not work I guess.

    I just wish so badly I had never been born, and decided never to have kids of my own-which is another reason to be depressed, not because I want them but because in a world like this we celebrate motherhood (even though by creating life, those are the people who have collectively created ALL suffering!) and as I move towards 40 I’ll be even more ignored and more of a freak and useless because as a woman I didn’t breed. But I’ll be glad none of my kids will ever have to go through life and feel the way I do so there is some comfort in that.

    • Anonymous says:

      It is nice to know that I am not the only person in the world who has felt since I could remember that I just didn’t want to live. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Carl says:

    This is a very good article and addresses how a person can become suicidal without even realizing it. The thought of wanting to die, whether intentional or not, can gradually, perhaps over years, lead to more active thinking or planning of suicide. At least, this was my case. For decades I experienced the thinking or wishing that I was dead. It led to a dangerous, hi risk career and beyond. You see, as we think such thoughts, we create neuro pathways by which the thoughts can travel more freely. Suddenly we find reasons we should die, then the thoughts ” I would kill myself before I did…” After decades of these thoughts and another string of unfortunate events, more traumas, the part of my mind that was convinced I had to die was stronger than me and the other part of my mind was oblivious and did not understand why. After all the therapy and personal work, it was only by reading my anti suicide affirmations and confronting each passive or active suicidal thought, that I was finally able to stop them and find peace.

  5. Linda Straubel says:

    Kathy, First of all, thank you for asking my opinion of this internet article. I’m flattered to be included in this request along with Dr. Stacey Freedenthal, a professional I have enormous respect for.

    Secondly, I’m sorry it’s taken awhile to respond. While psychology is Dr. Freedenthal’s field of expertise and not mine, I’m using my own experience as a retired professor of rhetoric, persuasive writing and logical fallacies to critique Sarah Knutson’s article. As such, I wanted to read it over carefully more than once, while making note of both positive and negative aspects of her argument.

    To start with some positive notes, she does use some good sources and in a relevant way, rather than taking them out of context as some do. At least, that’s true at the beginning of her argument, but the reliable use of sources breaks down over the course of the argument. Her organization is, overall, pretty good and she makes some valid points on the amount of cultural stress we endure and its effects on us, but there are warning signs from the very opening lines that logic is not going to be this article’s strong suit.

    For one thing, I am always leery of a writer leaning too heavily on personal feelings as a guide to her own behavior and as an analytical tool for the feelings and behavior of others. This leads to a closed-in, solipsistic world-view that becomes impenetrable to reason. Knutson dresses it up in some suspect language that seems to be sophisticated but, on closer examination, is more baffling than enlightening, such as her criticism of the “iatrogenic psychiatry-Pharma alliance.” At the very least, jargon not known to the generally well-educated public needs to be explained to truly support an argument. More on that later, as well.

    To get back to my original logical analysis, I find numerous over-generalizations, such as “modern society,” or “everyone else is coping”; leaping to conclusions, as in claiming, without evidence, that stress and illness are causal and not “mere statistical correlation”; oversimplification, as in attributing sufficient cause to something that may be just a contributing cause, such as cultural stress; a combination of oversimplification and confirmation bias in seeing the “global village” as just adding to her stress with no possibility of ever helping her. She’s not alone in this, however. It occurs to me that social critics tend to focus only on the negative aspects of the “global village” social media create. However, people can also find support, comfort and even badly needed funding, through social media. It occurs to me that much of this dismissive attitude actual grows from the ease with which these media are accessed and used. The same criticism arose with the advent of home computers. Before that, it was typewriters replacing hand-written letters. While I never read any claims that hand-written love letters sent through the mail only created a false sense of friendship, I do read that about connections made through social media. Hand-written letters are, therefore, legitimate, but messages of love and support typed on a laptop and launched on Facebook, e.g., are dismissed as fake. If ease of use is our only criterion, we should all be writing with quill pens we sharpened ourselves and ink we created by mixing soot and olive oil. And the letters should be sent by Pony Express. But I digress.

    About three quarters into the article, there’s also a switch in person from third to second, as if we are all her fellow victims. Later, that turns into the accusation that we are also part of the conspiracy victimizing her. When she accuses social media and other forms of information of “rubbing our noses” in our social inferiority, it’s become both personal and, seemingly, intentional. It’s also extremely personal when everyone we encounter is playing the same “zero sum” game of competition for status.

    It’s always interesting to me when people use the term “zero sum,” mostly because they almost invariably get it wrong, conflating zero-sum with all competition. Her language on the way we compare ourselves with others is a good example of this misuse. For instance, if there are so many ways we automatically compare ourselves with others, as she points out, there must also be some aspects in which we “win,” and others in which they win. That is not zero-sum. She also creates a false dilemma – either I diminish you or you diminish me – by claiming that making a loser of everyone else is the only way to “maintain [an] illusion of superiority.” Hard work, achievement and helping others have always given my self-esteem a boost, without any such illusion, and not at the cost of anyone else’s self-esteem.

    Which brings me to my final point: her argument really comes off the rails when she seems to argue that no one has good intentions – that no one sincerely wants to help her. Even therapists are just playing the zero-sum game and pretending to help just to feel better about themselves, as are her friends and family. It’s pretty damning that she dismisses even a therapist’s diagnosis as simply “following orders as part of the ‘iatrogenic psychiatry-Pharma alliance.’” The article’s conflating psychiatrists with all therapists in this alliance is another over-generalization, since only psychiatrists can even prescribe meds.

    Finally, she dismisses “mainstream medicine,” and has, thus, left herself no recourse, no source of comfort, and no genuine place to get help. I’m also confused by her claims that others manage the stress better because she has the “gift” of seeing the problem better than the rest of us. Or maybe we don’t manage it better, but are all dying of it, just at different speeds. Even friends offering the advice that she see a therapist are her enemies who only do so to make her feel worse. The argument dismisses the very idea of good intentions, claiming that others pretend to help with the over-riding purpose of making her feel more isolated. They do so just to make themselves feel better and to elevate themselves above her, she claims. Therapists, by the way, all play the same game. And, again, the fact that she feels that way is taken as gospel; if she feels that no one sincerely wants to help, then it must be true, from her skewed point of view. Her argument that no one is even capable of being well-intended, is both inaccurate and sad. Based on this logic, she blames family, friends and therapists for her feeling diminished and isolated. While she does make some valuable points about the cultural stresses we face, she neglects to find any way to resist or counteract them. She promises to explore such resistance in a later article, but that statement doesn’t fill me with hope.

    It seems to me that she has managed to diminish, isolate and trap herself. Her repeated use of such false analogies as “predator,” and its derivatives (I stopped counting at ten), and “stalked,” for all marketers, politicians and, apparently, therapists, e.g., is a good example of how we can trap ourselves with our own vocabularies. She’s used words to paint herself into a metaphorical corner and has convinced herself that she can’t be rescued. By the end, this is not so much an argument as a rant.

    There’s more to my original notes, but I’ve gone on quite long enough.

    • alexandra-h says:

      Did you see this piece last week at Aeon website? I thought it was a very good article all around.

      https://aeon.co/essays/the-voice-of-sadness-is-censored-as-sick-what-if-its-sane

      I’m not so keen on giving depressive episodes a greater credit than they deserve on the ability to represent reality in a less biased way. Depression can also give an exaggeratedly negative representation of the self and reality. The sense of profound worthlessness — physical and intellectual — that may stem from an depressive bout and a complete irreal representation of the world is as biased as optimistic and positive thinking. Other than that, the article seems spot on. I also love her sources and citations.

      This work in particular seems very interesting:

      >”Alice Holzhey-Kunz, a modern, existentially oriented Swiss psychoanalyst, turns to Heidegger’s distinction between authentic and non-authentic forms of living. She claims that mental suffering signifies a disillusioning confrontation with the reality of existence. In that sense, depression is not so much a disorder as a disillusioning explosion of the nothingness of human existence. In this context, a cheerier form of what we might call ‘inauthentic living’ would hardly be a pathology since it counters acute existential awareness with everyday tasks and oblivion in the commonness”

      Also, the final bit is excellent:

      >”In closing, I must address you, my dear reader. I realise that, as you were reading this essay, you must have experienced a ‘yes, but…’ reaction. (‘Yes, life is horrible, but there are so many good things too.’) This ‘but’ is an automatic response to negative, horrifying insights. Once exposed to these forces, our positive defence mechanisms kick in. I myself was caught in the drill while writing this essay (and pretty much during the rest of my life). Without this protective measure, we would all probably be dead already, having most likely succumbed to suicide for relief”.

  6. Landskab says:

    Dr. Prashant Gajwani, MD, says that the sleep-wake cycle becomes disturbed in people who suffer from depression and that the irregularity can actually exacerbate depression. If you’re sleeping too much or not enough, depression might be the culprit. It’s good to try to limit yourself to eight hours per night, as well as doing things to encourage sleeping eight hours if you’re experiencing insomnia. Nancy Virden, mental health advocate and a suicide-attempt survivor, shared her story with me. She said, “In January 2011, I tried to end my life. One might think I would have known how to manage my major depression since it is recurrent, however many signs went past my observation.” She details her dark journey by identifying the multiple stressors that started a year earlier: a move, surgery, major life events. She went off her meds eight months before her attempt, and a few weeks before her attempt, she was reckless and suffering major mental torment. Virden has gone on to help many others identify the signs of depression and live to fight another day.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Yes, I often feel that way, but would not commit suicide because it would destroy my family

  8. Bertrand says:

    I’ve tried psychotherapy but have never lasted more than 3 sessions. Tried all kinds of medications but none work because I am convinced that my abject ideas that life’s only purpose is the replication & preservation of itself, just because it can; that not just our individual existences but our whole existence as a species and in fact the whole history of life itself will one day be in any case utterly erased as even the Earth and the Cosmos will end, and is therefore utterly meaningless in any kind of transcendental sense, and so on and forth, are actually an honest description of reality which leaves me in a perpetual state of chronic depression. Psychotherapy and antidepressants therefore, have nothing to offer me because I truly believe that’s just how reality is. I’ve tried art, philosophy, music, religion and drugs as sublimating tools but nothing really satisfies. Yes, I know we can create our own meaning and marvel at the awe and wonder and beauty of the universe and find solace in love & companionship, but these things just don’t work for me.

    Reflexive self-consciousness is as much a curse as a blessing because it allows us to become aware of the nothingness that haunts us everywhere we go. It’s like this deep-seated sense of disappointment and sadness that I have decided is just part of my constitution. I am an extremely pessimistic introvert.

    Needless to say, with such an outlook, not many people hang around me for long. The only thing that saves me, keeps me going day to day are my pets. Without the animals whom I care for & love, I wouldn’t be here. Since I adopted my first cat, I stopped thinking about suicide even though I was just as depressed. I couldn’t bear to even think about leaving this creature, who loved me totally unconditionally, behind. I am totally dependent on them just as much as they on me. It’s the one thing that makes me want to, obliges me actually, to keep going.

    You have to find something, some creature to care for or despair will just eat you alive.

    I recommend this article on Depressive Realism

    https://aeon.co/essays/the-voice-of-sadness-is-censored-as-sick-what-if-its-sane

    • Linda Straubel says:

      Bertrand – You seem to be stuck in that state that the poet Wallace Stevens labeled “the shaken realist,” as in Modernist novelists and poets suffered the loss of faith that followed the horrendous destruction of the so-called Great War. Yet, Modernism gradually made way for Postmodernism, which I always took as, at least in part, a sign that humanity could move on, accepting the fact that life could have meaning, even if not the transcendent, eternal meaning that religions’ gods had promised. The fact that life ends does not, for me, make it worth any less, since I am not Wallace’s shaken realist; I was born a realist and have adapted to the clear and present knowledge that this life is all there is for me. You’re in a hard place, and getting unstuck is going to be hard, as well. But I believe you can do it. One thing that has helped me, because I have had my struggles with suicidal thoughts in the past, is to listen to the troubles of others. I’ve become the “ear” my friends pour their troubles into and the “shoulder” they can cry on. My reputation is one of absolute integrity when it comes to that and people know they can trust me to keep their confidences confidential. It’s not perfect and it’s not easy and I still cry at the drop of a hat, but, still, it helps me to realize that others have troubles, too.

      I honestly don’t know if any of this is helpful to you. I just hope so. You may not have people in your life that care about you, but there are people on this site who do and care to answer your post. That’s not everything, but it’s not nothing, either. As to your physical pain, please don’t give up the search for some way to ease it or to cope with it That may actually be the root of your depression and finding at least partial release for that might go a long way to helping you with the rest. Don’t give up hope, please.

  9. Nodscene says:

    Interesting topic and I’m sure it will become a long and interesting conversation like your most famous one….I’m sure you know which one I’m talking about 🙂 You may even recognize my name.

    Back to the topic at hand, my ex fit into this category to the T while I’m at the opposite end. Back in the day she overdosed a couple times on Valium just wanting to sleep for a few days. She never wanted to kill herself and ironically has a phobia about death but would have loved to go to sleep and never wake up.

    Essentially they are exactly the same…your conscious mind is dead forever. But of course being intelligent humans we can differentiate between the two states.

    In that respect I am a little surprised that the death rate between the two trains of thought are close to the same. I’ve tried to end my life (and sadly failed but that’s just a matter of time) while those (from my experience) who want to just sleep forever still want to live and don’t do things that are as drastic as putting on 12 fentanyl patches for example haha.

    I find this interesting and will follow the remarks.

    Thanks for keeping the other thread open (I hope it still is) and while we don’t always agree on things I respect what you are doing.

  10. Linda Straubel says:

    Dear Stacey, Thank you so much for that informative and somewhat alarming message. I find it alarming to learn that even passive suicidal ideation is a danger sign, since I do, on occasion, have such thoughts. Since I’ve been through some rough times, but am fine now, I always chalked those thoughts up to nothing more than a bad habit acquired through those rough times. Does that still put me on your continuum? I’d be interested in doing some follow-up reading on the research you cited. Can you give us any links to such research? Thanks for caring and for this invaluable website.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Linda,

      Thank you for your comment. I always appreciate your participation on the site.

      The articles I mentioned in the post have hyperlinks that lead to them. Some other resources around passive suicidal ideation are:

      Let’s Talk About the Difference Between Passive and Active Suicidal Thoughts, by Arya Grace with themighty.com.

      The Sad Truth about Passive Suicidal Thoughts and Actions, by Shirley J. Davis with thriveglobal.com.

      Yes, I am Suicidal. No, I am Not Going to Kill Myself, on supportiv.com.

      I want to assure you that passive suicidal thoughts don’t mean you’re at high risk for suicide, just higher than normal risk. The risk for suicide is quite low. Even among people who seriously consider suicide, roughly only 0.45% — half of a percent — die by suicide. In any given year, roughly 0.02% of the U.S. population dies by suicide. So you can see that the suicide rate is 20 times higher for people who seriously consider suicide, but it’s still extremely low.

      The important thing is that when you have thoughts that you wish you were dead, it signifies that you’re hurting or otherwise experiencing great difficulty. It would be good to recognize those thoughts as a sign to attend to yourself and your needs (which might mean getting help from others, too). The analogy of a fever is an apt one: When we have a fever, we know not to push ourselves and, instead, to rest.

      And yes, thoughts can become a habit. Imagining oneself dead can give a person relief if they’re suffering. Their suffering would end. If you felt relief when you had such thoughts, the relief was a reward. Your mind wants to feel better, so it will turn to that reward again … and again.

      Depending how much of a habit has developed, it can be very hard to eliminate such thoughts. In fact, trying to eliminate them can create problems; think of the phrase, “What we resist, persists.” But now the resistance the failure to eliminate the thoughts cause new anxiety. A more constructive approach is mindful observation, which I describe in my post Like Clouds Before the Sun: Mindfulness and Suicidal Thoughts.

      Whatever the case, Linda, please take care! 🙂

      • Linda Straubel says:

        Stacey, Thank you so much for your personal and detailed response. It is a relief to know that the specific statistics on the results of passive suicidal thoughts are so low. Like most, I guess, I tend to read “higher than normal” as more dire than it is, since “higher than normal” can be by a small margin of an already small percentage. It’s also rather amusing, in an ironic way, to know that such thoughts can persist because they’re rewarding. Thank you, too, for this invaluable site. Your caring is truly wonderful.

      • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

        Thank you, Linda! I very much appreciate the feedback.

  11. Frankie says:

    Yes.. I want to die.. and it should be my right. I have severe hip pain that wont go away… I need hip replacement and cant afford it. I have Meniere’s Ear Disease.. causing me to lose my hearing.. to have severe vertigo and vomiting.. and there is nothing they can do about it.. without my hearing I cannot work.. without work I will be homeless. I’m 57.. I’m ready to end my life.. I have no family.. I’ve already out lived them all including my sister that died at 38.. I have no wife.. no children.. I live in poverty. My life is over.. my health will do nothing but get worse as I get older. I will leave nobody behind to mourn.. nobody. No close friends.. nothing.

    • Ruby says:

      this is really sad , is there any friend who could help you , you are welcome to have my email address if you want to private chat .I care ….

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Frankie,
      What you’re facing sounds so painful and overwhelming. It sounds like you have nobody to talk to about your mental suffering, and you don’t mention receiving any help for it. I hope you will consider calling the National Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or texting “start” to 741741, so you can at least vent to someone. I list other resources, as well, at speakingofsuicide.com/resources/#immediatehelp.

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