Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Suicidal Ideation Treatment For Teens & Youth

Suicidal Ideation Treatment

Suicide among teens is a real concern for families today. In fact, suicide is the second-leading cause of death in youths between the age of 15 – 24. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, over 20% of high school students have reported serious thoughts about suicide.  While these statistics are harrowing, to say the least, there is hope.  If your teen or a teen you love is struggling, please read further about suicidal ideation treatment, learn what it is, and get insights into when and how to seek teen suicide help.   

What Is Suicidal Ideation?

Suicidal ideation is a term that describes a person who is having suicidal thoughts and thinking about ending their own life.  Suicidal ideation can manifest from many different psychological disorders. For instance, this condition may arise from teen depression, which is the leading cause of suicide for youth.  While suicidal ideation can be linked to psychological disorders such as bipolar and depression – in some instances, a teen may contemplate suicide without the presence of mental illness.  This is why suicidal ideation help should be sought in order to assess what a teen is going through and move forward with a solid plan for his or her well-being.   

Passive Suicidal Ideation Vs Active

There are two types of suicidal ideation that parents and guardians of troubled teens should know about: Passive and active suicidal ideation.  Passive suicidal ideation is when an individual fantasizes about being dead or thinks about ending one’s own life – yet does not make a plan for suicide or act on wishful thoughts of death.  Alternatively, active suicidal ideation is when a teen is actively planning his or her death and has a strong intent to act on thoughts of suicide.  

Suicidal Ideation Vs Suicidal Intent

Suicidal ideation is a state in which an individual has ideas about suicide, and contemplates the idea of ending one’s life.  Suicidal intent, on the other hand, is when there is clear intent or motivation to commit suicide by making plans and intending to take suicidal thoughts a step further into the realm of action.

Stages Of Suicidal Ideation

There are different stages of suicidal ideation parents should be aware of in order to assess whether or not a suicidal ideation care plan is required.  Here are the following three stages of suicidal ideation:

Stage 1

This is the stage in which a teen is entertaining thoughts of suicide.  A teen might be thinking thoughts such as “the world would be better off without me” and may consistently be plagued by morose thoughts, hopelessness, and a feeling that life would be better if it all ended.  This is the inchoate phase, in which a teen is only contemplating ideas of suicide. As such, this is the ideal time to implement a treatment plan for suicidal ideation in order to avoid these dark thoughts escalating into subsequent phases of advanced stages of suicidal ideation.

Stage 2

This is a more urgent phase of the suicidal cycle in that the thoughts of despair and hopelessness begin to elevate to such an extent the individual begins to devise a plan for suicide.  As a parent, you may be able to identify this 2nd stage if your teen becomes increasingly more withdrawn or stops communicating altogether.  While this planning phase should be addressed with suicidal ideation treatment, teens in stage 2 are not always in imminent danger of ending their lives. 

Stage 3

As you might accurately presume, this final stage of suicidal ideation entails a conscious decision to go through the act of suicide.  Once a teen reaches this stage, they have likely been grappling with suicidal thoughts for weeks, if not months, followed by planning their suicide, and this phase marks their ultimate choice to go through with the act of taking their own life.  When this decision is made, a teen often goes through a “no thought” fugue in which he or she is on auto-pilot. As a result, the teen may be going through the motions to commit suicide without being fully conscious or aware of the finality of their actions.  This phase is often considered the breaking point for teens because they are at the point where they give up and finally succumb to the desire to end their lives. Teens going through this “no thought” phenomenon in stage 3 of suicidal ideation commonly attempt suicide within a few days.  Given the severity and imminent danger of self-harm and even death, it is crucial to obtain treatment for suicidal ideation long before a teen reaches this phase in the cycle.   

Rate Of Suicidal Ideation In Teens

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in five teens (18.8%) experience suicidal ideation.  Among these teens contemplating suicide, 15.7% (one in six) actually acted on their thoughts and physically attempted to end their lives.

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Why Teens Are At Higher Risk Of Suicidal Ideation

Even the best home life cannot offer a 100% guarantee that a teen will not succumb to suicidal ideation.  Teens are under excruciating pressure today, which often manifests into feelings of helplessness, feeling overwhelmed and triggers a compulsion to want to escape from the chaos in their lives they feel inept to control.  

In addition to the daily pressures almost every teen is faced with today, certain teens may be more vulnerable to suicidal ideation due to mental health issues.  For instance, a teen who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar, depression, or any other type of mental illness is at higher risk of suicidal tendencies.

Lastly, the teenage years are often about exploring and experimentation.  This could lead to the use of drugs or alcohol.  In many instances, a teen may be susceptible to suicidal ideation if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In fact, according to the CDC, 16% of teens have reported underage drinking, and 22% of teens have admitted to drug use.  Considering that alcohol and drug use are directly linked to depression, suicide, and other mental health challenges – this makes teens a high-risk demographic for suicidal ideation.  

The Warning Signs Of Suicidal Ideation in Teens

Although every teen is different, there are a few common “red flags” parents and guardians can pick up on that may indicate the need for teen suicidal ideation treatment.  Here are a few key behaviors that may indicate a teen is grappling with thoughts of suicide.

  • Increasingly withdrawn and isolating themselves from parents, friends, or loved ones.
  • Giving up on activities or social functions they once used to enjoy.
  • Becoming more secretive and spending more time alone.
  • Talking about their mortality or making statements such as, “I wish I were dead.”
  • Giving away meaningful items, as if willing away or bequeathing possessions.
  • Making unusual statements that seem like a teen is saying “goodbye” in preparation for suicide.
  • Drug and/or alcohol use which is becoming more unmanageable.
  • Finding evidence of a planned suicide attempt, such as a weapon or a stash of pills.
  • Heightened mood swings ranging from anger to severe ennui.
  • Feelings of helplessness, lack of control, being overwhelmed, or under excessive pressure and stress.
  • Other signs of self-harm such as substance abuse, dangerous driving, unprotected sex, or radically careless behavior without consideration of potential injury. 

It’s important to bear in mind that these are just a few warning signs that might indicate a teen could benefit from suicidal ideation treatments.  In reality, all teens express themselves differently, and they may exhibit signs of battling suicidal thoughts in different ways.

How To Address Suicidal Ideation

Ideally, the best way to address suicidal ideation is to talk to your teen.  However, this isn’t always achievable – especially if your child has become withdrawn, uncooperative, or refuses to communicate.  In this instance, it’s best to call in a mental health professional who specializes in the treatment of suicidal ideation.  

If possible, you may be able to administer specialized tests according to suicidal ideation treatment guidelines, which can help assess your child’s condition more accurately.  These guidelines or standards include specific tests that can help more clearly identify the risk of suicide in your teen.  These tests include:

Suicide Probability Scale: This simple, 10-minute test uses a four-point scale to determine how a teen is coping and measures his or her overall mental condition.

Ask-Suicide Screening Questions (ASQ): This is a group of questions intended to detect any early signs of suicide.  The query is only four questions long and only takes a few moments to complete, but it can be very telling as to your teen’s mental status.

Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS): This is a short list of questions that parents can informally ask their teens in order to more accurately assess their teen’s mental wellbeing.     

The Recommended Treatment

There are several life-saving suicidal ideation treatment practices that can be revolutionary in helping your child overcome the ravages of suicidal thoughts and accompanying mental health challenges.  The most common treatment is psychotherapy.  Also known as “talk therapy,” this form of treatment allows teens to share their thoughts and feelings with a licensed mental health professional in a safe, supportive environment.  

Other treatments that may be administered in a teen suicidal ideation treatment center include teen group therapy,  alcohol and/or substance use disorder treatment, adventure therapy, or in some instances, medication-assisted treatment.  All of these therapies should work in tandem with implementing a healthy diet, proper fitness, and building a supportive network that reinforces better lifestyle choices and beneficial coping skills.

How Muir Wood Can Help

When you make the choice to seek help at Muir Wood, our fully accredited centers and fully licensed health professionals make every effort to make you and your child feel safe and supported as possible.  Our life-affirming therapies combined with inspiring views of the breathtaking Southern California terrain lends itself to healing.  Furthermore, we pay attention to every aspect of your child’s long-term success in overcoming suicidal ideation.  Our combination of time-honored therapies coupled with the natural beauty of our campuses are both uplifting and a positive environment for positive change in your child.  

Suicidal Ideation Treatment at Muir Wood

From first contact, Muir Wood is committed to getting to the root of your teen’s angst and emotional discomfort.  Our comprehensive assessments inform our qualified team to cultivate a tailored suicidal ideation care plan for your teen.  We provide around-the-clock care for your teen as well as keep you, and family members informed as to his or her progress.  At Muir Wood, we believe the future of our world is in the hands of our youth.  Therefore, we are fully devoted to providing evidence-based treatment for suicidal ideation so your teen can flourish in life long into adulthood.

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Suicidal Ideation FAQs

Can most youth suicides be prevented?

While every case is different, many teen suicides can be prevented.  Early detection is crucial, and getting immediate help is a critical response to youth suicide prevention.

Does having suicidal thoughts mean you have depression?

Not necessarily.  Although depression can certainly be connected to suicidal ideation, it does not always lead to suicidal thoughts.  Typically, thoughts of suicide emerge when a teen is experiencing tremendous emotional pain and cannot see a way out of such emotional or mental angst.

What are suicide interventions?

A suicide intervention is an effort made by an individual, family members, a group of friends, or an entire community to prevent an individual from attempting suicide.  Intervention is a way to get in front of the ravages of emotional pain and attempt to guide an individual to treatment in order to reduce the risk of suicidal thoughts or a suicide attempt.

What is suicidal ideation inpatient treatment like?

Inpatient treatment for suicidal ideation may vary depending upon the facility. Ideally, inpatient treatment for at-risk individuals should provide 24/7 observation, support, and treatment in order to rehabilitate an individual.  Additionally, treatment should provide an individual with therapies and coping tools to help him or her heal from emotional disharmony.

What to do when your child is having a mental health crisis?

If your child’s life is in danger, call 911 immediately.  Stay with your child until first responders arrive.  You may also call your local crisis hotline, such as the California Youth Crisis line, at 800-843-5200, or dial 988 to reach the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services is a Joint Commission-accredited mental health and substance use disorder treatment provider located in Petaluma, California. We provide integrated evidence-based care including psychiatry, psychotherapy, experiential therapy, wellness services, and milieu therapy for adolescents and teens, and their family members.