What to Do When You Don't Want to Live—But You Don't Want to Die

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Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

What Is Suicidal Ideation?

If you've ever thought "I don't want to live like this, but I don't want to die"—you’re not alone. Major life stressors, childhood trauma, or untreated depression are all reasons that someone might feel this way.

This can be considered suicidal ideation, which means thinking about taking your own life. Nine percent of people experience suicidal ideation in their lifetimes, but only 14% of those make attempts. The rate of completed suicides is even lower—for every 31 attempts, there is only one completed attempt.

The Difference Between Active Suicidal Ideation & Passive Suicidal Ideation

If you’ve decided you don’t want to live like this any more but you don’t want to die, it’s likely that you’re feeling passive suicidal ideation. This means that you’ve thought about not living any more, but you don’t have any active plan to die by suicide

However, passive suicidal ideation can quickly turn to active (i.e., having a plan, means and intent).

“It’s important to remember that feeling suicidal is a state that can change rapidly,” says licensed therapist and suicidologist Janel Cubbage, LCPC. 

This means the feelings can also be reduced quickly, including through promising new interventionssuch as ketamine infusion therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

What Does It Mean If I Feel Like This?

Feeling like you don’t want to live but you don’t want to die means that something hurts. “It can convey emotional pain and a desire for change,” says Cubbage.

It may signify that you feel like much is outside of your locus of control, and those feelings of powerlessness can also lead to the hopelessness that makes it feel pointless to live. Or perhaps you are feeling a bit of an existential crisis—wondering what the point of all of this is. You might be wondering why the minutiae of your life matter and why you matter. 

Grappling with these big life questions can be really hard and may feel incredibly isolating, making it easy for you to spiral and believe that nothing matters. However, existential questioning can also open up space for more meaning in your life as you think about what does matter to you.

What Do I Do When I Feel Like I Want to Die?

You may be feeling desperate right now, but there are a number of things you can do, such as therapy, reaching out to your social support network, and safety planning.

Therapy

If you are not already in some kind of mental health treatment, consider seeing a therapist who can help you work through these feelings and find out why it is that you feel like you can’t live like this.

They can also help you identify coping tools you can use to keep yourself safe and reduce these feelings.

Safety Planning

"Safety planning is an evidenced-based way to help prevent hospitalization and attempts,” says Cubbage. 

In research with suicidal patients in the emergency room, safety planning was associated with the patients being half as likely to exhibit future suicidal behavior and twice as likely to attend mental health treatment.

Some key things to include on a safety plan include a list of coping strategies that have worked for you and sources of support. Sources of support can be friends and family as well as mental health professionals—either your therapist or a local mental health agency that you can contact.

Mental health professionals sometimes use a tool called the "Reasons for Living Inventory" to assess for suicidality, but you might also want to look at it on your own to begin to jog your memory of reasons you want to live. Or you can make a list on your own—and nothing is too small to include. If you want to live because you love your morning coffee, that counts! 

Just as hopelessness can lead to feeling like you don’t want to live—but you don’t necessarily want to die—feelings of hope mean that there is a glimmer of light out there. In a study, those who identified more reasons for living were better able to access those reasons, even in periods of depression.

Seek Social Support

Depression or suicidal thoughts may lie to you and tell you you’re a burden—but they’re lying. Your loved ones care about you and want to help you—and social support is one of the leading protective factors against suicide.

Some benefits that social support provides:

  • Tangible resources such as providing the number for a hotline or counseling center
  • Physically interrupting a suicide attempt
  • Increased feelings of belongingness 
  • Increase of protective factors such as self-esteem
  • Feedback from others
  • Resources for problem-solving
  • Exposure to positive events 

Feeling like you belong—because of social support—increases self-esteem and reduces feelings of burdensomeness. A feeling of belonging may contribute to reduced suicidality.

Find Connection

Research shows that having some kind of religious practice reduces the risk of depression and suicide, due to feelings of meaning, purpose and gratitude often felt in connection with religious involvement.

If you’re not religious, but you're spiritual, the same applies to spirituality in its ability to help you find meaning in life.

How to Help Someone Else

If you’re a loved one worried about someone who has said they don’t want to live anymore but they don’t want to die either, we know this can be scary for you, too. 

Janel Cubbage

Your natural instinct may be to remind them of the reasons they have for living or to tell them to think about their friends and family and how their death would affect them. Push those instincts to the side and listen to them. Hear them. Let them tell you what’s contributing to their emotional pain.

— Janel Cubbage

Of course, if someone is in imminent danger, contact emergency services or bring them to the nearest emergency department. 

A Word From Verywell

It is brave for you to realize that you don’t want to live like this any more—and that you don’t want to die. A safety plan and a support network can help you through this crisis.

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