When former-actress-turned-royalty Meghan Markle, wife of Britain's Prince Harry, confessed to having had suicidal thoughts in an Oprah Winfrey prime-time special in March 2021, she put a spotlight on a public health crisis that is anything but glamorous.
“I was really ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry. ... But I knew that if I didn't say it, then I would do it,” she said. “I just didn't want to be alive anymore."
Markle's thoughts about ending her life are what's known as “suicidal ideation,” says Patricia Kaine, M.D., a retired family physician who's now a suicide prevention speaker in Cleveland and has experienced such thoughts herself. “Suicidal ideation is where you have gone beyond the fleeting thought of suicide to, ‘I'm thinking of ways to commit suicide. I'm thinking how suicide will make life better, for either me or the people around me. Meghan Markle's story is more common than people realize."
Kim Ruocco, who lost her husband to suicide in 2005, can relate.
“Meghan said a lot of similar things that you hear from people who are struggling,” says Ruocco, vice president of Suicide Prevention & Postvention for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). “And you think about, if she could get to that place, anybody could."
Beyond fleeting thoughts
If you or someone you care about is considering suicide, call, text or chat the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline to connect with a trained counselor who can provide support and direct them to local resources, if necessary. Veterans who dial 988 can press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line and speak with a responder trained in crisis intervention and military culture.
The line is also available by chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or by text at 838255. Find more information at 988lifeline.org. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also has a helpline (the Treatment Referral Routing Service) offering information on support groups, treatment options and other assistance: 800-662-HELP (4357).
The data vary, but around 25 to 35 percent of adults in the U.S. have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives, says Christine Moutier, M.D., chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Suicidal thoughts are so widespread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that in 2021, an estimated 12.3 million adults seriously thought about suicide; 3.5 million made a plan; and 1.7 million made an attempt.
"It does not necessarily indicate anything other than the fact that life is challenging for all human beings,” Moutier says. “Challenges and struggles are kind of universal to the human condition.”