Suicidal Ideation in Teens and Young Adults

Talking about suicide and suicidal thoughts from a position of concern or curiosity can help alert you to any suicidal ideation a friend or family member might have. It also helps to encourage them to be open about their thoughts and feelings and consider no important topic to be taboo. Suicide in the media, so long as it is explored in a way that does not glorify the idea of suicide.

Suicide is a very scary line of thinking, particularly if it has never come up in your own mind. Yet for some people, the thought of committing suicide goes from being unthinkable to looking like a good idea. That journey is hidden, subconscious, and much more common than most would think. Every year, over one million people attempt suicide, and nearly 50 thousand Americans complete it. Due to the prevalence of this epidemic, talking about suicide is no longer taboo.

Among teens, suicides happen for a myriad of reasons, from pre-existing mental health conditions to constant physical and emotional pain. What can start out as a vague idea that ending life is the best option can turn into active intention to complete the act. Rationalizing suicide takes time, and suicidal ideation can be caught before it turns to action. The key factor is to intervene during the stages prior to the point that plans are made. This is accomplished through educating ourselves on the signs and symptoms associated with suicidal ideation.

What Does Teen Suicidal Ideation Look Like

  • Suicidal ideation is the idea of committing suicide. Rather than an official condition, suicide and suicidal thoughts are often symptoms of another problem, a perceived solution to pain or prolonged suffering, and for some, it looks like the only way out of a bad life. It can take the form of a vague conception, and then progress toward the teen intending to make death a reality.
  • Sometimes, it happens without a clear warning. The warning signs of suicidal thoughts are subtle, difficult to spot, and sometimes almost non-existent. If a teen is not prone towards sharing their thoughts and emotions, they may be holding their thoughts in, never calling out for help, or calling attention to their thinking until it is too late. Encouraging your teens to be open about severe problems such as suicidal ideation is important to helping them find a better path forward.
  • Suicidal ideation can be a symptom, or a problem in and of itself. For parents, the idea that their kids are thinking of suicide and death is terrifying – especially if there’s no easy way to tell. Getting professional help for your teen without knowing what they’re thinking can seem like overreach. However, there are a number of warning signs to look out for that warrant professional help.

Other signs that you teen might be thinking about suicide include joining online groups which promote self-harm or suicide as an option, making decisions to give away belongings, sharing indications of abandoning plans for the future, and researching methods for ways to end life.

It can be difficult to tell when teens are being serious or hyperbolic, making warning signs difficult to detect. However, as a parent, your own judgment may help. Furthermore, if your teen is talking about suicide, always take it seriously – even if it may be a joke. If you worry about your child’s thoughts and mood, consider having a simple discussion and asking them. If anything seems wrong, strongly consider seeking professional help. This is so that you can have guidance in figuring out what your teen needs, and how best to support them. Being a parent in this situation can make rational approaches more difficult, due to the emotional investment. Employing the help of a trained, objective, professional can provide a parent with the added support necessary to make the best decisions toward getting a teen through this difficult period in life.

What Are the Causes of Teen Suicidal Ideation?

Suicide has a number of possible causes, all linked to severe physical and emotional suffering. While there is a genetic link to suicide – meaning those with a family history of suicide may be more likely to commit suicide as well or have suicidal thoughts – this can often be due to another shared family condition, such as depression, addiction, or anxiety. There are statistics which indicate that once one family member has utilized suicide as an option, the stage has been set for other family members to more seriously consider this as a way out, as well.

Men are more likely to commit suicide than women, due to choosing more lethal options. The level of lethality – or violent means –  which is employed can affect the chances of completion. However, women more frequently attempt suicide. The less violent ways that females attempt suicide include overdosing on medications. Minorities and stigmatized identities – such as homosexual and transgender teens – are more likely to think of suicide due to bullying, and the culture which one is raised in can contribute to how the act is considered and completed. Specific causes of suicidal ideation among teens include:

  • Substance abuse
  • Traumatic events
  • Extreme stress (a close and personal loss)
  • Depressive thoughts (hopelessness)
  • Isolation
  • Chronic physical pain
  • Hostile/dysfunctional home or school
  • Exposure to peers who consider or complete suicide (contagion)

The Different Types of Teen Suicidal Ideation Treatment

The first goal of teen suicidal ideation treatment should be to ensure the teen’s physical safety. Because the experience of having thoughts about suicide is so intense, teens often feel hopeless, isolated, and ashamed. Safety planning is the process of identifying sources of distress, and developing a collaborative approach toward making sure that steps are in place for receiving help when the suicidal ideation is becoming stronger.

While it might feel lonely to be suicidal, other teens often also suffer from depressive thoughts, including suicidal ideation. Treatment for teens with these thoughts often involves letting them know they are not alone in their struggle. The relation to other peers who experience similar thoughts can provide relief from the loneliness of suicidal ideation, and is best fostered in an environment which can simultaneously provide the teens with effective coping strategies.

It is important for a medical professional to help them gain relief from the severe feelings that they’re experiencing, whether from depression, anxiety, bipolar, or another mental illness. There are several ways to help teens gain relief from these overwhelming symptoms, most will include a combination of medication and therapy sessions. Once teens gain some relief from their depressive symptoms, they are more likely to feel emotionally stable and therefore, be much more able to engage in therapeutic work to address the underlying reasons and causes for their current struggles.

Teen suicidal ideation is a tragic reaction to severely stressful situations, often including depressive thinking. Once the thoughts have moved into a planning stage, the ideation has turned into suicidal behavior. Suicidal behavior can be spoken about on a spectrum that ranges from fleeting, intentional thoughts of suicide to committing a suicidal act. The more severe the feeling, the more consistently teens are troubled by thoughts about committing this act. One of the most important factors in determining a teen’s risk of committing a suicidal act is whether the teen has a specific plan and the means to complete the plan.

Though most people who suffer from suicidal thoughts do not commit a suicidal act, of those who do, the great majority of these people are suffering from another psychiatric disorder, including substance abuse. Along these lines, it’s important to note that it can be common for teens to have suicidal thoughts, during a particularly difficult period of time. It doesn’t mean that the teen will always struggle with these thoughts or will always struggle with depression. This is an extremely important message for teens to understand, because the feelings and hopelessness associated with suicidal thoughts can be so overwhelming that it might seem impossible to hope for a future without these thoughts. Teens are often still struggling with emotions and interactions that, with time, get easier.

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How Can I Help with Teen Suicidal Ideation?

One of the most overwhelming challenges for a parent to face is the worry that their child may cause harm to themselves. At Paradigm, we understand that having a teen that is experiencing suicidal thoughts can feel impossibly difficult, intimidating, and frightening. Often, it’s hard for parents to even know where to start.

We strongly recommend that if you believe your teen is at risk of harming themselves, please get immediate help from a professional therapist and/or psychiatrist, who can conduct the proper diagnostic testing to ensure your teen’s physical safety.Video Player

If your teen tells you that he or she is at risk of hurting himself/herself, take them to get professional help immediately, where they can be offered the intensive support and protection they need, during this vulnerable and difficult time. If you don’t have a doctor or therapist that you’re familiar with, take them to the hospital, where you can be guided to the right place and people. If it turns out that Paradigm is the best place for your teen to get teen suicidal ideation treatment, we can walk you through this first difficult step, as well as all the others that will follow.

Teen Suicidal Ideation Treatment At Paradigm Treatment

At Paradigm Treatment, we work closely and carefully with teens who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, through several different treatment methods and approaches. The therapeutic work to address suicidal thoughts is woven into the teens’ overreaching treatment plan, which will be to address the underlying symptoms and causes present, which are leading the teens to have these severe, harmful thoughts.

By addressing a personal perspective of what a teen is going through, we’re better able to help teens escape from the thought patterns that they’ve become accustomed to, as well as recognize what sorts of support resources teens might need. First and foremost, our work is to ensure that teens are safe and not at risk of harming themselves. Beyond a person’s immediate safety, we want to help them work through their thought patterns and belief systems.

We work with the teens through different stages, including helping them address the codependent disorders or symptoms that are present; acknowledge difficulties within relationships and address how to improve them; and carefully evaluate triggers and help the teens to become equipped as to how to overcome them, in the future.

We also teach a number of different healthy coping techniques, such as meditation, breathing exercises, and other similar things, so that teens can learn healthy ways of finding relief, rather than turning back to old habits, when under pressure. In every way possible, we not only want to help teens to overcome their suicidal thoughts, but to equip them and empower them with strong coping mechanisms, so that they can successfully navigate the stressors and conflicts of their lives.

If there is one strong message to share about a teens thinking of suicide, it’s to get help, and to know that there is hope. Your teen is not going to feel like this forever, and change can begin now. Life can be much, much better.

I can’t say enough about the team of therapists whose expertise, kindness, compassion and dedication drew my son out of his dark depression, challenged him to challenge himself, re-instilled in him the will to live, and brought the beautiful smile back to his face.

Chantal C., mom of a former client

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Suicidal Ideation

If someone you know and care for speaks about suicide in a way that implies that they’re thinking of or would like to kill themselves, then it’s important to take into consideration the idea that they are serious. Too often, we misinterpret the signs of genuine distress, and then regret our lack of intervention.

Sometimes, a bad joke in a comedic context can be interpreted as just that – a bad joke – but if the topic comes up again and again, then it may be much more than just poor humor. This type of cry for help is to be taken seriously, rather than an example of seeking attention for attention’s sake. It is generally better to play it safe when it comes to addressing any expressions of consideration of suicide.

Many practically imperceptible factors go into whether someone develops suicidal thoughts or not. Certain factors such as socioeconomic disadvantage and stress at home or at school have a large impact on depressive thinking, but to push it to suicide, there is often a deeper level of risk that may not be immediately noticeable. Personal experiences, especially trauma, as well as genetic factors such as a likelihood to develop and descend into progressively depressing thoughts can all contribute to the likelihood of thinking about suicide.

Past that, the push from ideation to action requires crossing yet another mental line, and situational pressures are often key to that: severe bullying, trouble at school, rejection, and emotional pain. Why people have suicidal thoughts differs from person to person.

Yes, it is. Talking about suicide and suicidal thoughts from a position of concern or curiosity can help alert you to any suicidal ideation a friend or family member might have. It also helps to encourage them to be open about their thoughts and feelings and consider no important topic to be taboo. Suicide in the media, so long as it is explored in a way that does not glorify the idea of suicide or the act of suicide, also helps bring awareness to the reality that these topics are on the minds of millions of Americans, and that over a hundred people die per day to suicide – one for every 25 suicide attempts.

Do not glorify or promote suicide but make it clear that talking about it is important, especially if your loved one has been thinking about it lately.

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