Revitalizing Hope – Supporting Teens Struggling with Suicidal Thoughts

September 7, 2023

The 2019 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (2019 YRBS) illuminated data related to young people and mental health. One of the areas surveyed was suicide and the data shared revealed that 18.8% of teens reported seriously considering suicide in the past 12 months. And for pre-teens ages 10-12, the number was even bigger at 29%!

One of the most sensitive topics in therapy sessions with children and teens is suicide. And lots of people worry that even talking about suicide in session might make contemplating it even more of a likelihood.

In education and training for our work as mental health experts, we are taught to be clear about the mistaken assumption that, when an individual talks about suicide, they are doing it to shock us or to get attention. Or that they talk about suicide to cause “drama”. We take every conversation about the presence of thoughts about suicide seriously – every time.

The APA (American Psychological Association) defines suicidal ideation as “…thoughts of serving as an agent of one’s own death…and may vary in seriousness depending on the specificity of suicide plans and the degree of suicidal intent.”

Part of our role with clients, of any age, when suicidal ideation comes up in session is to identify whether the thoughts are passive suicidal thoughts or active intentions. Our clinicians are very specially trained to have these kinds of conversations with clients of all ages and to assess for suicidal thoughts, plans, and intentions.

This month – SEPTEMBER – is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. To highlight this effort, some of our team are sharing their work with clients around suicide in session.

Wedad Omer, Resident in Counseling

Suicidal ideation is a crucial topic for teens due to the unique challenges they face during this developmental stage. Adolescence involves intense emotional and psychological changes, and teens often struggle to manage these feelings effectively.

Factors like academic pressure, social relationships, identity exploration, and online interactions can contribute to stress and feelings of isolation.

Discussing suicidal ideation provides an opportunity to address these challenges, destigmatize mental health issues, and equip teens with the tools to cope with their emotions. By addressing this topic, we can create a supportive environment that encourages open dialogue, early intervention, and the promotion of mental well-being among teens.

Katie Thompson, Supervisee in Clinical Social Work

Telling someone about your suicidal ideation is one of the bravest things you can do. Oftentimes, individuals, particularly teens don’t speak up because they don’t want to “make it a thing,” “be a burden,” or “have someone worry about them.” All I ever feel when my clients speak up about suicidal ideation is proud. Proud that they are fighting for themselves. Proud they are loving themselves, whether they know it or not. Proud they are asking for help.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with suicidal ideation, and feel scared to speak up, please know that speaking up is the hardest part. I’m not saying the rest will be easy, but you’ll no longer be alone and you’ll have the support and care you deserve! We as therapists are always rooting for you, and when you speak up about suicide, we will be so proud of your bravery above all else.

Cleo Chalk, Resident in Counseling

Navigating the exciting, yet tumultuous journey of teenage years can be overwhelming! For some, it can bring feelings of hopelessness and despair. Therapy is a great option to offer a lifeline to teens grappling with these difficult emotions. Therapy serves as a safe and confidential space that allows teens to express how they are feeling and what they are thinking without judgment.

While working with teens who experience suicidal ideation, I like to use person-centered therapy because they are the experts of their own lives. I utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help them identify negative thought patterns and replace them with more positive and rational ones. By using CBT, I am able to empower the client to help them challenge their self-destructive thoughts and develop healthier coping strategies.

Suicidal ideation is a serious concern! If your teen is experiencing symptoms, therapy will help them find the strength to overcome their challenges, develop coping skills, and rediscover help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, contact us today, we are here to help. You can also call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. If it’s a life-threatening emergency, please call 911.

Stay tuned for part two. Until next time, Be Wise!