Teen Suicidal Thoughts & Ideation - A Guide For Parents

This Article Seeks to Guide on the Following:

  • What are suicidal thoughts and ideation?
  • What are the common warning signs of suicidal thoughts and ideation?
  • What are the risk factors for teen suicide?
  • What you should do if your teen is suicidal
  • Therapy for teen suicidal thoughts and ideation

The mere mention of the words “suicidal thoughts” is enough to send shivers down any parent’s spine. Raising a child who expresses suicidal thoughts is an emotional roller coaster, leaving you feeling helpless and desperate to assist your child.

As a parent or a caregiver, unwavering love and support for your child is vital throughout these dark moments. In this article, Key Healthcare developed a tailor-made guide that explore what suicidal thoughts and ideation entails, the underlying risk factors, and, most importantly, how to help your child overcome suicidal thoughts and ideation.

Understanding Teen Suicidal Thoughts & Ideation

There are many myths and misconceptions about teen suicidal thoughts and ideation. It is important to understand what they entail to approach the issue from an informed point of view. Addressing it will be easier and more efficient if we have all the right details concerning teen suicide ideation. So, let’s look at what suicidal thoughts and ideation are.

What are Teen Suicidal Thoughts and Ideation?

Teen suicidal thoughts and suicide ideation refer to thoughts and fantasies a teenager has about ending their life. It also involves a wide range of emotional states and distorted beliefs, which the teenagers think of suicide as a potential solution to many of their problems. Another common distorted belief teenagers have is that family members and other loved ones will be better off without them. The thoughts and fantasies may vary in duration and intensity from one teen to another. Some may have passing thoughts of suicide, while others may have persistent thoughts of suicide.

Why are Teen Suicidal Thoughts & Ideation a Concern?

Suicidal thoughts and suicide ideation are not the same as attempting suicide or planning suicide. But, this should not be taken lightly because it is the first stage that may eventually lead to a suicide attempt or, worse, actual suicide. In the next stages, as the condition worsens, the teenager starts to develop effective ways of committing suicide. In the final stage, the teenager attempts suicide because they have already decided.

Suicide ideation among teenagers is a sign that they may be having underlying teen mental health issues, and immediate treatment is needed to prevent further harm. As parents and caregivers, it’s important to pay attention to what their teenagers are going through to identify early warning signs of suicide ideation.

How Common Are Teen Suicidal Thoughts & Ideations?

Suicide ideations, suicide attempts, and actual suicide are common among teenagers and young adults in the United States. The suicide rate has been on a steady rise over the past few years and has been ranked the second leading cause of death among those of ages 10-24. Suicide ideation is higher among high school students, where nearly 20% have reported serious thoughts about suicide.

These statistics portray an alarming reality we must grapple with as parents and caregivers. It is a sensitive topic that many people often avoid, making it challenging to offer help that teenagers desperately need. We need to start and normalize conversations about these issues to find practical solutions.

Risk Factors for Teen Suicide

Many factors can contribute to teen suicide, but it is important to note that each case is unique and may be influenced by various factors. Besides, these factors do not automatically indicate that a teenager is always contemplating suicide. A teenager may also be having suicidal thoughts even when everything seems to be okay. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Previous suicidal attempts
  • A history of drug and substance abuse
  • Teenagers who engage in self-harming behaviors
  • Previous traumatic events like losing a loved one or sexual abuse
  • Bullying: both physical and cyberbullying.
  • A family history of suicide
  • Mental health problems and disorders like teen depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD in teens)
  • Teenagers with a terminal illness or a physical disability
  • Breakup or other major relationship issues
  • Exposure to suicide incidents in social media
  • Loneliness and Social isolation in teens
  • Economic problems within the family
  • Lack of access to mental healthcare services

The recent pandemic also contributed to increased rates of suicide and suicide ideation because of social isolation and economic concerns that left many people depressed.

How to Recognize the Risk Factors for Teen Suicide

It may not be easy to tell when a teenager has suicidal thoughts. Most of them have mastered how to hide their emotions, and many parents and caregivers cannot tell whether it is typical teen problematic behaviors or signs of teen depression. Teenagers are also afraid to talk to their parents because they fear how they may react. Parents should look out for the following suicidal behaviors.

  • Sharing posts on social media of desires to die
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Expressing acute sadness, hopelessness, and lack of desire to live
  • Increased substance abuse
  • Collecting items that could be used to self-harm or commit suicide, like pills, knives, rope, or other weapons
  • Giving away treasured objects.

These are examples of early warning signs of suicide ideation, but the list is not exhaustive.

The Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health published a pilot study that utilized the Suicide Ideation Questionaire to help assess adolescent and youth suicidal crises. The questionnaire contained 30 questions that parents and healthcare providers can use to know if a teenager is at suicide risk. The following are some of the essential questions to ask.

  • In the past few weeks, have you felt that you or your family members would be better if you were dead?
  • Have you thought about how you would kill yourself?
  • Have you thought about what you would write in a suicide note?
  • In the past few weeks, have you ever wished you were dead?
  • Have you thought about how easy it would be to end it all?

This leads us to our next question, what should you do if your teen indicates that they are having suicidal thoughts?

What to Do if Your Teen is Suicidal

Once you notice your teen having suicidal tendencies or they have told you they have suicidal thoughts, you must take necessary measures to ensure they get the much help they need. Initiate and maintain a conversation with your teen, seek professional help, create a safe environment, and ensure you also care for yourself.

How to Talk to Your Teen About Suicide

Talking to a teen with suicide ideation requires the parent or caregiver to approach the conversation with care and strategy, similar to how one would approach a bird. Just as birds can be easily startled and fly away with one wrong move, discussing such sensitive matters with teenagers requires a delicate approach to ensure they feel comfortable and willing to open up. A wrong move can potentially create a barrier to effective communication. Parents can utilize the following skills to initiate and maintain a conversation with the teen.

  • Prepare for the conversation – Preparation can help you feel more comfortable with the conversation and help you maintain your emotions. Plan to have the conversation in a setting where there would be no interruptions and for the conversation to be in person. Choose the right time, and if your teen is not ready to talk, find out if they would be willing to talk to somebody else or seek professional help.
  • Approach with a non-judgmental attitudeStart the conversation with an understanding attitude without blaming or criticizing the teen. Validate their feelings and let them know that you are there to support them. Instead of belittling their issues, let them know that you understand. For instance, don’t say, “This should not worry you.” Instead, say, “I can see why this is worrying for you.” 
  • Ask directly – Be honest and specific about things that you have noticed about them that may be a sign of suicide ideation. Acknowledge that you are worried about them and encourage them to speak out. For example, you could phrase the following question in a non-judgmental way. “I have noticed your recent posts on social media, and I’m wondering are you having thoughts of suicide?”
  • Listen Actively- Pay attention to their answers and allow them to express themselves fully. Ask open-ended questions requiring long answers rather than yes/no answers. Start your questions with how, when, why, where, and what to avoid yes/no answers. For example, you could ask, “How long have you been having these thoughts?” instead of asking, “Have you been having these thoughts for long?”
  • Stay calm and control your reactions – It is natural to be shocked or panicked during such a conversation, but it is important to remain calm. Reacting to the situation might make the teen reluctant to open up and state their feelings.

How to Seek Professional Help for Your Teen

Sometimes parents may be overwhelmed by the events and cannot address the situation effectively. The teen could also be reluctant to talk to the parent, so seeking professional help is the best option. But how should parents go about it?

Mental health professionals like therapists, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists specializing in teen and adolescent behaviors are available nationwide to assist teenagers struggling with suicidal thoughts and ideation. Seek recommendations from trusted sources to help you find a specialist to help your teenager.

Key Healthcare is a premium teen treatment center that has highly trained professionals that help teens get back on track so they can begin to refocus on healthy relationships at home, at school, and in their communities. Among the many programs offered by Key Healthcare is the Teen Residential Treatment Center in Malibu, California, which specializes in diagnosing and treating teen mental health issues like suicidal thoughts. It is an intensive inpatient program where teenagers receive 24/7 support and a safe environment to focus on their recovery.

How to Create a Safe Environment for Your Teen

Teens with suicidal thoughts and ideation need a safe environment: physically, mentally, and emotionally to recover from the condition.

The first step is to remove any objects that can be used to inflict self-harm or commit suicide. These include guns, knives, ropes, poisonous pills, sharp objects, and other weapons.

Secondly, educate yourself to gain more knowledge on suicide and adolescents’ mental health issues. This will help you gain more information on effectively supporting your teen.

Thirdly, maintain open, non-judgmental communication with your teenager and constantly encourage them to express their feelings.

Lastly, consult a qualified mental health professional to help you develop a treatment plan to help your teen return to a fulfilling life. If your teen is in immediate danger, do not hesitate to contact emergency services for immediate assistance.

How to Get Support for Yourself and Your Family

Taking care of a teenager with suicidal thoughts can also affect your own mental health and that of the whole family at large. You might feel stressed, sad, or worried. It’s important to remember to take care of yourself during this challenging time so that you don’t get overwhelmed or lost in the process. Parents and family members can utilize the following strategies.

  • Take help when you need them – It is okay to ask for help from others, like friends or family members, who can support you during this time.
  • Reach out to a mental health professional- Consult specialists in teenage mental health issues to provide guidance and help you navigate through the challenges.
  • Engage in family therapy – Consider going for teen family therapy. Therapists may help solve underlying family dynamics that may be contributing to suicide ideation by your teenager.
  • Join support groups- Sharing your thoughts with other families and parents with similar experiences can provide emotional support and validation. This will go a long way in giving you hope for a better future.
  • Practice self-care- Don’t let your teen’s struggle pull you down the dark alley. Prioritize your mental and physical health by engaging in hobbies and other things you like. Engage in activities that help reduce stress, like regular exercise and meditation.

Therapy for Teen Suicidal Thoughts & Ideation

Every teenager deserves access to quality mental health care. Therapy is essential for teenagers with suicidal thoughts because they can get help from qualified professionals and use tried-and-tested methods. It should be normalized because it offers a safe and supportive space for teenagers to express their emotions and gain coping skills. Normalizing it would help reduce the stigma surrounding therapy, providing an opportunity for early intervention and prevention of suicide.

Types of Therapy for Teen Suicidal Thoughts & Ideation

The following are some of the most common forms of psychotherapy professionals utilize to treat teenagers with suicide ideation.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT for teens focuses on identifying and altering negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to suicidal thoughts. Therapists help teenagers recognize negative thought patterns like hopelessness and replace them with more positive ones. CBT also equips teenagers with essential skills to manage emotional distress and strategies to cope with challenging life situations. This improves their mental well-being and reduces suicidal thoughts.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Teen DBT combines aspects of CBT and focuses on teaching teenagers skills to manage intense emotions, regulate mood, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. It helps teenagers with suicidal thoughts to understand and navigate through distressing emotions and cope with conflicts. It mainly teaches teenagers how to appreciate and live in the moment, which can reduce suicidal thoughts.

Family-Based Therapy

Family-based therapy recognizes the impact of family dynamics on a teenager’s mental health and involves the entire family in the therapy sessions. It aims to facilitate and improve communication and understanding among family members. It provides an opportunity for open conversations in which family members can express their feelings and concerns. It helps resolve underlying issues that may contribute to teen suicidal thoughts and create a supportive environment for faster recovery.

Group Therapy

Teen group therapy involves therapy sessions with a group of teenagers with similar mental health issues. It offers a supportive environment where teens can connect with others experiencing similar struggles. It also provides a sense of belonging and a community where they can share their thoughts and emotions without being judged. Group therapy is also efficient because it also offers teenagers an opportunity to build social and communication skills that will be helpful in many aspects of their future lives.

How to Choose a Therapist for Your Teen

Many individuals falsely present themselves as specialists, preying on vulnerable parents and seeking to exploit their hard-earned money. It is important to consider certain factors when choosing a therapist to ensure your teenager is in safe hands. Here are factors to consider when choosing a therapist for your teenager.

  • Seek recommendations from trusted sources – Ask for referrals from trusted sources like the school’s guidance and counseling department. Many schools are in contact with qualified professionals to help their students.
  • Consider the professional’s experience with teenagers – Search for therapists with experience working with teenagers and specializing in dealing with teen suicidal thoughts and ideation.
  • Verify the credentials – Many people are masquerading as specialists, so it is important to check their certifications and licensing from their professional bodies.
  • Consider compatibility with your teenager – Research has it that the relationship between a therapist and a client is a huge factor contributing to the therapy’s success. It may be helpful to ask your teen which therapist they feel most comfortable with. Consider the therapist’s personality, communication style, and approach. Your teen may also have a preference for the age or gender of the therapist.
  • Trust your intuition – Trust your instincts as a parent. If something doesn’t feel right or you have doubts about a therapist, looking for other options is essential. The relationship should be built in trust.

How to Support Your Teen’s Therapy Journey

Supporting your teen is a journey that requires active participation, patience, and understanding to help them fully recover from their mental health issues. Here are some ways you can provide support.

  • Educate yourself – Take the initiative to look for information to help you understand teen suicidal thoughts and ideation and the therapeutic processes. You can also ask for information from parents who have had similar experiences to know how they went through their situations.
  • Encourage open communication – Create a safe and understanding environment where your teen will feel comfortable sharing their therapy progress.
  • Respect their privacy –One reason therapy outcomes are positive and effective is when it is confidential. Do not pressure your teen to disclose information they are unwilling to share.
  • Validate their feelings – Always let them know you care and understand their feelings.
  • Collaborate with their therapist – Maintain communication with their therapist and always share all the information the therapist needs to make the sessions more productive. You can always seek guidance from the therapist whenever you need help.
  • Be patient and understanding – Therapy is not an overnight solution. It may take time, and there may be no visible signs of improvement. It is crucial to be patient and remain positive throughout the journey.
  • Seek help yourself – Taking care of your own mental health is important. Seek help from a support group, or you can even go for therapy sessions.


Taking care of a teen with suicidal thoughts and ideation is an incredibly difficult task for parents. The journey demands immense patience and understanding because of the constant challenges throughout the process. With this guide, we believe parents will be equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate this difficult journey. It has provided them with essential information on recognizing warning signs, seeking professional help, and creating a supportive environment. Parents can now help their teenagers more effectively with this newly informed perspective to offer the struggling teenagers hope for a better future and fulfilling life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What should I do if my teen refuses therapy for suicidal thoughts and ideation?

If your teen refuses therapy, it is important to respect their feelings while trying to understand why they are taking that position. They may have a wrong idea of what therapy entails, so educating and dispelling any myths and misconceptions about therapy is important. If they are still reluctant, explore other options like support groups. If they are at immediate risk, immediately consult a professional.

How can I manage my own stress and anxiety as a parent of a suicidal teen?

As a parent, prioritize your health by engaging in activities you like. It’s a great idea to create a support system of close friends who can offer emotional support.

What should I do if my teen’s condition worsens despite our efforts to help them?

If the condition worsens, immediately consult a qualified professional to assess the condition, but all the time, remain supportive and understanding to your teenager.

How can I tell if my teen is just going through a rough patch or if they’re truly suicidal?

It may be difficult to differentiate the two but look for warning signs like social withdrawal, expressing hopelessness, giving away prized possessions, or sharing suicidal posts on social media.

Can medication help with teen suicidal thoughts and ideation?

Medication can be helpful in certain cases of teen suicidal thoughts and ideation. They can be prescribed alongside therapy to treat underlying mental health conditions. For example, anxiety medications and antidepressants can be prescribed to teens with suicidal ideation if the underlying causes are because of teen anxiety and depression. Medication should only be prescribed by qualified mental health professionals specializing in teenage and adolescent mental health issues.

What legal implications should I be aware of if my teen is suicidal?

Laws can vary from different States. It is advisable to consult a legal professional to give you sound legal advice on what the laws of a particular State require of a parent who has a suicidal teen.

What should I do if I suspect my teen’s school contributes to suicidal thoughts and ideation?

If you believe your school is contributing to your teen’s suicidal thoughts, address this issue quickly by setting up a meeting with the school administration or school counselors. Express your concerns and demand ways in which the issue can be resolved. If the conditions do not change and are still a risk to your teen’s mental health, it is better to seek alternative schools. Your child’s mental health is paramount, even above your academic concerns.