Treatment Options for Teens Struggling with Suicidal Ideation

Rates of suicide among teens are on the rise, becoming the second leading cause of death among young people in recent years. With this, more people are talking about suicide awareness and prevention in teens. Suicide risk often occurs in combination with external circumstances that may overwhelm teens who are unable to effectively cope with challenges inherent with adolescence, such as teens with mental health struggles. Some of the most notable of these factors include behavior problems, interpersonal losses, family conflict, sexual orientation/identity struggles, and being a victim of bullying. If your teen is struggling with suicidal ideation, there are a variety of treatment options available to not only keep your teen safe, but to motivate them to be more engaged in the opportunities that life has to offer.

The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.

Table of Contents

What is Suicidal Ideation?

Suicidal ideation refers to thoughts about taking one’s life with some degree of intent, although it doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is an imminent risk to themselves. It is necessary for all degrees of suicidal ideation to be taken seriously to determine the level of risk. Suicidal ideation is not uncommon among teens struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use, borderline personality disorder, or a history of self-harm.

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Warning Signs of Suicidal Ideation

  • History of depression or self harm
  • Frequent thoughts about death
  • Hopeless attitude about life
  • Difficulty coping with recent experience of loss
  • Social withdrawal and lack of interest in relationships
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Self Harm vs Suicidal Ideation

Most teens who have self-harmed in the past claim that they don’t self-harm with the aim to commit suicide. Self-harm may be related to feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that accompany suicidal ideation, but they are not mutually exclusive. For some teens, self-harming is a way to cope with overwhelming feelings of suicidal ideation instead of following through with a plan. While self-harm is not the same as a suicide attempt, as a risk factor for later suicidal ideation, it can be life-threatening --whether it is accidental or intentional. For this reason, it is important to take signs of self-harm seriously. 

When Does Your Teen Need Treatment for Suicidal Ideation?

While many teens may express feeling directionless or existential from time to time, recurrent self-destructive urges require intervention. If your teen has attempted suicide in the past, is talking about suicidal thoughts, or has a plan to try again (even without a specific date), it is important to reach out for professional help for your depressed teen

How to Support Your Teen Struggling with Suicidal Thoughts

  • Ask. Asking open-ended questions like, “is there anything I can do” implies infinite possibilities but may also suggest that you aren’t confident about what might help. Often, your teen might not know either. Asking specific questions communicates that you are open to talking about what’s going on in their life in a non-judgmental way without jumping to conclusions.
  • Keep Them Safe. Do they have a specific, detailed plan? Identify ways to keep them safe that don’t feel punitive. Emphasize that their safety comes first.
  • Be There. This could mean being physically present for someone, speaking with them on the phone when you can, or any other way that shows support for the person at risk. Remind them that you will be there whether or not they reach out.
  • Learn More about ways you can continue to be a support system. Family therapy focuses on healing strained relationships between family members by teaching them ways to communicate more effectively and how to use coping skills to take care of themselves. Doing your own research on suicidal ideation can show your teen that you want to understand where they are coming from and to do what you can to be there.

Therapeutic Goals for Teens with Suicidal Ideation

  • Recognize negative thinking patterns and challenging those thoughts
  • Opening up to others about negative thoughts about self or life events that have triggered suicidal ideation in the past
  • Learn and practice healthier coping mechanisms that don’t intensify these thoughts
  • Identifying positive features, relationships, and achievements in their lives
  • Verbalizing a sense of hope for self and the future

How Does Wilderness Therapy at blueFire Help Teens Struggling with Suicidal Thoughts?

blueFire Wilderness is specifically designed to promote personal development in teens as they learn essential social and emotional skills for facing challenges both personally and within a group. Outdoor experiential programs focused on active participation from students are a great way to help depressed teens regain motivation and build confidence in achieving their goals. Experiences in the outdoors can help teens shift their perspective on life and gain greater self-awareness when distanced from other stressors and distractions.

blueFire uses a unique style of teaching to strengthen the child’s confidence and sense of responsibility. A few examples include:

  • Immersing the teen in nature and allowing them to connect with their surroundings through interacting with the great outdoors
  • Letting youth develop their own activities to reward and build the confidence in abilities
  • A variety of experience-based learning techniques such a planning a path for a hike, packing supplies, and camping
  • Learning emotion regulation skills with an emphasis on developing healthier personal habits and coping mechanisms
  • Developing a stronger support system through group therapy, group adventure activities, and family therapy

Depression in youth is a significant risk for each teens’  future, but wilderness therapy helps teens find support in each other as a team and learn to appreciate their own achievements with renewed confidence.