Sad Girl Looking Out Window

Treating Teen Suicidal Ideation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently shared alarming statistics that show suicide as the second leading cause of death among individuals aged 10 to 34 in the United States. 

Additionally, the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) highlights that more than 20% of high school students have reported serious thoughts about suicide. While these numbers are undoubtedly distressing, especially if you are a parent, healing from suicidal thoughts and actions is possible for your teen. 

At Muir Wood, we understand how deeply concerning it can be for parents dealing with teenagers who have suicidal ideations. We want you to know that you are not alone in this journey, and we are here to help you and your teen every step of the way. 

Your child’s well-being matters to us. We are committed to providing immediate attention and specialized care for teens experiencing suicidal thoughts. 

We recognize that this is a challenging and emotional time for both teens and their families. That’s why our team of caring specialists is dedicated to offering comprehensive treatment and unwavering support throughout the healing process.

Together, we can navigate this difficult path and work toward your teen’s brighter and healthier future.

Continue reading to learn more about suicidal ideation in teens.

What Is Suicidal Ideation?

In short, suicidal ideation refers to thoughts or contemplations about suicide. These alarming thoughts can range from vague notions to detailed plans, and affect millions of teens yearly.

Suicidal ideation can manifest from many different psychological disorders. For instance, this condition may arise from teen depression. And while suicidal ideation can be linked to psychological disorders such as bipolar disorders, anxiety, and major depression, a teen may contemplate suicide without mental illness. This is why it is essential to seek help for suicidal ideation in teens.

Through compassionate care and expert treatment, teens will begin to understand their struggles, and develop a solid plan for their well-being moving forward.   

It is important to understand that any talk or indication of suicide must be taken seriously, even if you don’t see signs of suicidal thoughts or actions prior. 

Suicidal ideations must be treated promptly with professional help to provide mental clarity and emotional stability for your teen – and for you – as soon as possible. At Muir Wood, we recognize the importance of early intervention and the value of addressing these thoughts with empathy and understanding—no matter what your child may be facing. 

Causes of Teen Suicide

Even the best home life cannot offer a 100% guarantee that a teen will not engage in suicidal ideation. 

Let’s face it–teens are under excruciating pressure today, which often manifests into feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and feeling overwhelmed. These feelings can act as triggers of a  compulsion to want to escape from the chaos in their lives that they feel inept at controlling.  

In addition to the daily pressures almost every teen faces, certain teens may be more vulnerable to suicidal ideation due to mental health issues. For instance, a teen with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, depression, or other mental illness, is at a higher risk of suicidal tendencies.

Teens may also be susceptible to suicidal ideation if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Other causes may include:

  • Bullying and peer pressure
  • Family troubles
  • Traumatic events
  • Academic pressure
  • LGBTQ+ identity and acceptance
  • Media influence
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Lack of access to mental health services
  • Cultural and social stigma

It’s essential to approach teen suicidal ideation with compassion, awareness, and open communication. Identifying the root causes can guide efforts to provide appropriate support and early intervention for at-risk teens.

The Scale of Suicidal Ideation

As simple as it may sound, the best way to address suicidal ideation is to talk to your teen directly. However,  we understand that this isn’t always achievable.

With proper parental support and professional help, tailored treatment is 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, including a quick and easy self-test.

Suicidal Ideation Test

The first step in suicidal ideation treatment is comprehensive testing and accurate diagnosis.

From your first interaction, Muir Wood is committed to getting to the root causes of your teen’s angst and emotional discomfort. Our assessments and testing inform our clinical team, allowing them to cultivate a tailored suicidal ideation care plan for your teen. Testing may include:

  • Suicide Probability Scale: This simple, 10-minute test uses a four-point scale to determine how your teen copes and measures their overall mental condition.
  • Ask Suicide-Screening Questions (ASQ): This test is intended to detect any early signs of suicide. The assessment is only four questions long and only takes a few moments to complete, but it can tell your teen’s mental status.
  • Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS): This is a short list of questions parents can informally ask their teens to assess their mental well-being.     

As we care for your teen, understanding the severity of suicidal ideation is essential in providing them with the appropriate personalized care they need and deserve. Our experienced team assesses their thoughts using stages of suicidal ideation, among other metrics, to determine the level of intervention needed and recommended treatment type. Explore the stages in more detail below.

Stages of Suicidal Ideation

There are different stages of suicidal ideation parents should be aware of to assess whether a suicidal ideation care plan is required. Here are the three stages of suicidal ideation:

Stage 1

This is the stage in which a teen is entertaining thoughts of suicide. In stage 1, a teen might think, “The world would be better off without me,” and may be plagued by dark thoughts, hopelessness, and a feeling that life would be better if it all ended.  

This is in the initial 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 to avoid these thoughts escalating into subsequent phases of advanced 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, so the individual starts to devise a suicide plan. As a parent, you may be able to identify stage 2 if your teen becomes increasingly 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

The final stage of suicidal ideation entails a conscious decision to go through with 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. When this decision is made, a teen often goes through a “no thought” phase in which they are on autopilot. 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” period in stage 3 of suicidal ideation commonly attempt suicide within a few days. Given the severity and imminent danger, it is crucial to obtain treatment for suicidal ideation long before a teen reaches this phase in the cycle. 

Risk Factors of Suicidal Ideation in Teens

  • Existing mental health or substance use disorder
  • Impulsive behaviors and tendencies
  • Romantic breakups
  • Peer or social conflict
  • Firearms in the household
  • Family history of suicide
  • Exposure to suicidal behaviors of others
  • Prior suicide attempt(s)

Other Red Flags and Symptoms

Recognizing the warning signs of suicidal ideation can be lifesaving for your teen.

Common symptoms, or red flags, include:

  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness 
  • Talking about feelings being a burden to others
  • New or worsening alcohol or drug use 
  • Isolating oneself from friends and family
  • Drastic changes in mood or behavior
  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself
  • Making direct or indirect references to suicide or self-harm
  • Expressing feelings of unbearable emotional pain
  • Neglect of personal appearance
  • Lack of response to praise
  • Irritability
  • Sadness or crying spells
  • Posts on social media suggesting feelings of isolation or depression
  • Sudden withdrawal from activities once enjoyed
  • Feeling disconnected or alienated from others
  • Persistent feelings of sadness, depression, or anxiety
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Significant changes in appetite or weight
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Engaging in self-destructive behaviors or self-harm
  • Exhibiting sudden calmness after a period of distress (may indicate decision-making about suicide)

If your teen shows any of these signs, seeking immediate professional help as support is crucial. Suicidal ideation must be taken seriously, and timely intervention can make all the difference in the world.

Suicidal Ideation Treatment

Several life-saving suicidal ideation treatment practices can be revolutionary in helping your child overcome the ravages of suicidal thoughts and accompanying mental health challenges. 

The most common treatment is psychotherapy, or “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 approaches include: 

  • Teen group therapy
  • Alcohol or substance use disorder treatment
  • Experiential therapies 
  • Family support

These therapies should be conducted in tandem with a healthy diet, proper fitness, and building a supportive network that reinforces better lifestyle choices and beneficial coping skills. We provide around-the-clock care for your teen and keep you and your family members informed of their progress.  

When to Take Immediate Action

At Muir Wood, your child’s safety is our top priority. 

If you suspect your teen is experiencing suicidal thoughts, taking immediate action is crucial. 

If your teen is in imminent danger due to a suicide threat or attempt, call 911. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or #889 offers around-the-clock, free, and confidential support.

To get started on a comprehensive care plan for your child for suicidal ideation, we can help. Contact us today to learn more about our personalized treatment for teens.

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