What to Do When You Feel Like Giving Up on Life

Unhappy African American woman sitting in bed


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Information in this article might 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.

If you’ve ever felt like giving up on life, you’re not alone. Experiencing certain health conditions, unexpected events, longtime hardship, or simply feeling like life didn’t turn out as you thought it would are some of the reasons a person can have this feeling.

While it’s not unusual to feel this way during particularly trying times, this is a situation that you and your loved ones need to take very seriously. 

Wanting to give up on life can be a fleeting feeling, but it can also be a precursor to suicide. That’s why it’s important to reach out to a hotline, health care provider, social worker, clergy member, teacher, friend, or family member when this feeling arises. With the right treatment and support, your will to live again can return.

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

A major misconception about suicidal ideation is that it exclusively entails actively taking steps to end one’s life. That’s a form of suicidal ideation, known as active suicidal ideation, but it is not the only kind.

An individual can also experience passive suicidal ideation, meaning that one wants to die or feels like giving up on life without having any concrete plans to die by suicide. Passive suicidal ideation should not be taken lightly because people who have lost the will to live may begin to actively contemplate suicide and develop a plan to take their lives rather than hoping for an accident to kill them or simply to never wake up again. 

Symptoms of suicidal thoughts include a number of behaviors:

  • Fixating on death or dying
  • Giving away possessions
  • Actually discussing suicide or regretting ever being born
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Making one’s goodbyes
  • Securing guns, pills, or other items to end one’s life
  • An uptick in substance use and other forms of self-harm
  • Isolating oneself
  • Mood swings and other personality changes
  • Changes in daily routines
  • Getting one’s affairs in order for no apparent reason

Disorders Associated With Suicidal Thoughts

Suicidal ideation often stems from mood disorders such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and persistent depressive disorder (also known as dysthymia). It is also linked to personality disorders, most notably borderline personality disorder, and to hormonal conditions including postpartum depression, perimenopause, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Additionally, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been linked to suicidal thoughts.

It’s possible to feel like giving up on life without a diagnosis of these disorders or without experiencing a hormonal shift. Life circumstances may cause one to lose the will to live. This includes a person experiencing grief or bereavement due to the loss of a loved one. Survivors may not want to live in a world that no longer contains their dear friend or family member.

Experiencing a breakup or divorce is another time when life might seem too bleak to go on. And losing a job, especially if one’s identity was heavily wrapped up in the role, can lead some people to lose the will to live. 

People passively contemplating suicide after experiencing major life changes may have situational depression. Situational depression is not an official disorder, but mental health care providers may use the term to describe patients having difficulty adjusting to dramatic life events. They may diagnose these patients as having an adjustment disorder with depressive symptoms. 

Chronic Problems, Burnout, and Trauma

Sometimes people who want to give up on life haven’t endured a dramatic life change. Instead, they may have grown tired of dealing with conditions that are chronic, burnout, and trauma.

Chronic Problems

A person who has a chronic health problem may no longer want to cope with life through the lens of that condition.

Also, an individual experiencing a breakup may not only feel depressed about the breakup but about the string of failed relationships that fell apart previously. Having a lasting relationship with someone may seem completely out of reach, making the individual feel hopeless about the future or like a failure. 

Alternatively, people in a dead-end relationship or job may also feel like life isn’t worth living anymore. They can’t imagine an existence where their home life or work life is actually fulfilling. Reporting to a job where one is routinely overlooked, devalued, underpaid, or simply not challenged can be depressing.

Staying in a bad marriage for the sake of the children, one’s religion or any other form of obligation can also result in life losing its luster.  

Burnout

Burnout is another condition that can give rise to suicidal thoughts. Many parents may work during the day, then come home and work a “second shift” that involves cooking, cleaning, and caring for their children, while their spouse or partner does little or nothing to help. Having little downtime, let alone time for self-reflection, can make life seem like a series of endless tasks to complete. 

People in high-pressure jobs, such as medicine, also experience burnout. With long hours and little sleep, they may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some health care providers took their own lives as they were overwhelmed with deathly ill patients and a lack of resources to help them. 

Unresolved Trauma 

Unresolved childhood trauma can also cause people to want to give up on life. Individuals who have experienced abuse throughout childhood and now suffer from complex PTSD (C-PTSD) might have flashbacks, nightmares, trouble trusting others, and thoughts that the world isn’t a safe place.

They might also lose their faith in religion, making them feel even more alone as they struggle to recover from childhood wounds. Individuals with C-PTSD may struggle to imagine a world that isn’t defined by the abuse, trauma, and dysfunction of their childhood, resulting in them questioning if life is really worth living.

Of course, people who experienced trauma in adulthood might have similar symptoms, but childhood trauma is unique because it impacts the developing brain.

Treating Suicidal Thoughts

If you feel like you don’t want to live anymore, set up an appointment with a health care provider, particularly a licensed mental health professional, to talk about what you're experiencing.

Providers can give you a diagnosis, medications, talk therapy, and other treatment options. They can also give you tips about managing the emotions or circumstances that have led you to want to give up on life.

How your mental health professional proceeds with your treatment depends on your symptoms and the cause of them. Wanting to give up on life because of burnout, borderline personality disorder, or situational depression all require different treatment plans. An expert can help you find the protocol that works best for you.

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