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Suicidal Ideation

Treatment for Teen Suicidal Ideation

Teen suicidal ideation refers to thinking about or considering suicide. Because suicidal ideation can quickly progress to suicide planning and attempts, it’s imperative for parents to be aware of suicidal behavior and ensure that teens who are at risk receive suicidal ideation treatment.

What Recent Research Shows

Research shows that the teen suicide rate has been rising steadily over the past decade, and it is expected to increase further due to pandemic-related depression, anxiety, and collective trauma. Recent surveys show that seven out of every 10 teenagers are struggling with their mental health right now. Hence, parents, teachers, caregivers, and healthcare providers should be able to recognize the warning signs and learn how to help a teenager with suicidal thoughts.

What Is Suicidal Ideation?

Suicidal ideation refers to having suicidal thoughts—thinking about and imagining suicide. Suicidal thoughts often include negative and distorted beliefs, such as thinking that their family and loved ones would be better off without them.

Suicide ideation is not the same as planning a suicide, and does not mean that a teen will definitely make a suicide attempt. However, having suicidal thoughts is a clear sign that underlying mental health issues exist and that suicide ideation treatment is needed.

Rather than stages of suicidal ideation, suicide itself is considered a three-stage process, with suicidal ideation as the first stage. In stage 2, depression worsens, and the individual begins to make a concrete plan to attempt suicide. In the third stage, the teen decides to make an attempt. Because they are no longer wrestling with the decision, they may appear to be less distressed. A suicide attempt usually occurs within 48 hours of making the decision.

“One of the most difficult dilemmas that struggling teens face is the simultaneous longing to be seen and terror of being seen. The only way through this bind is to meet them directly at that point of conflict, through authentic connection. By listening and paying attention to what they are going through, we can find a way to help them heal,” says Danielle Roeske, PsyD, Executive Director, Newport Academy.


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13 Signs that a Teen Needs Suicidal Ideation Treatment

It’s not always easy to tell when a teen is thinking about suicide. Teens can be good at hiding their emotions and putting on a cheerful front. Sometimes parents aren’t able to tell the difference between typical teen behavior and symptoms of depression.

In addition, teens may be afraid of how parents will react when they talk about feeling depressed, or they may be ashamed that they are struggling, due to the stigma around mental health challenges. Therefore, those who care for and work with teens should be aware of and watch for the following suicidal behavior:

  1. Talking or posting on social media about suicide or wanting to die
  2. Expressing hopelessness, grief, sadness, and lack of purpose
  3. Increased substance abuse
  4. Changes in eating or sleep habits
  5. Collecting weapons or other items that could be used for suicide or self-harm
  6. Withdrawing from friends and family members
  7. Doing online searches for suicide-related topics
  1. Giving away treasured objects
  2. Difficulty concentrating
  3. Describing themselves as feeling trapped or in pain
  4. Saying they feel as if they are a burden to the people around them
  5. Acting moody, anxious, and/or agitated
  6. Suddenly appearing to be calm and positive after a long period of depression—indicating they have made the decision to attempt suicide

Teen Suicide Statistics

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States among ages 15–24, and the US teen suicide rate is the highest in recording history—14.46 per 100,000. Furthermore, experts believe that the teen suicide rate is likely to go up due to the isolation, loneliness, and stress created by the pandemic. According to a 2020 study on suicide risk and prevention, suicide rates have increased during previous epidemics, such as the 2003 SARS outbreak.

The following teen suicide statistics are from the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report, produced by the CDC and the US Department of Health and Human Services. According to the survey, in 2019,

  • 15.7 percent of students made a plan about how they would attempt suicide
  • 8.9 percent of students attempted suicide
  • 2.5 percent of students made a suicide attempt requiring medical treatment
  • Black students were the most likely to attempt suicide

Newport experts weigh in on a “13 Reasons Why” study that found a bump in teen suicide following Season 1 release

1 in 5

18.8 percent of US youth, or one in five, have seriously considered attempting suicide.


The rate of teen suicide is 3.5 times greater for LGBTQ+ teens than for their heterosexual, cisgender peers.


Suicide rates for US teens aged 15–19 have increased by 76 percent since 2007.

Causes of Teen Suicide

The leading cause of suicidal death is the despair, distress, and hopelessness that arises from trauma, depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders. These underlying issues may be catalyzed by a wide variety of risk factors and painful experiences, including:

  • A family history of suicide and/or substance abuse
  • Traumatic experiences such as abuse, exposure to violence, or the death of a family member
  • Social isolation and loneliness
  • Economic concerns within the family
  • Illness in the family
  • Cyberbullying—research shows that cyberbullying victims are twice as likely to attempt suicide and self-harm
  • Relationship conflicts at home
  • Lack of access to mental healthcare services
  • Failing or struggling in school

The pandemic has increased the likelihood of all of these risk factors. Remote schooling, social distancing, and economic and health concerns all heighten teen trauma, depression, and anxiety. Consequently, experts believe there may be a corresponding increase in the teen suicide rate.

Portrait of Jameson Norton

“Even before COVID, the US was seeing a year-over-year decline in life expectancy due in large part to suicide and overdoses at a young age. At Newport, we’re driven to make a difference—to innovate solutions and deliver on a promise of hope and healing, in the face what I believe is the most significant challenge of our time.”

—Jameson Norton, Newport Academy Chief Operating Officer

How to Help a Teenager with Suicidal Thoughts

First and foremost, parents and other adults who interact with adolescents need to ensure that a teen who is thinking about or considering suicide receives suicidal ideation treatment. Here are a few tips to help parents determine whether such treatment is needed, and to make sure that struggling teens get support before their mental health challenges escalate.

  • Communicate regularly with teens, even if it takes an extra effort to find ways to do so.
  • If a teen talks about hurting or killing themselves, ask them directly whether they are actually thinking about suicide, or if this is a way of letting you know they’re suffering. Listen carefully to their answer, and react with compassion rather than anger, fear, or judgment.
  • Don’t chalk up an adolescent’s anger or withdrawal to simply being a teen; take the time to decode teen behavior and figure out what’s going on underneath.
  • Strive to create family harmony and minimize conflict at home.
  • Limit the amount of time teens spend alone in their room or unsupervised.
  • Make sure teens can’t access life-threatening items that are kept in the house, including knives, guns, and medications.
  • Monitor teens’ online activities in order to detect cyberbullying and to screen for conversations or media consumption focuses on suicide and self-harm.

4 Questions to Measure Suicidal Behavior and Ideation

The Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire includes 30 questions to help screen for teen suicide risk. However, researcher Lisa Horowitz and her team condensed these to four essential questions that healthcare providers and others can ask in order to identify whether suicidal ideation treatment is needed:

  1. In the past few weeks, have you felt that you or your family would be better off if you were dead?
  2. In the past few weeks, have you wished you were dead?
  3. In the past week, have you been having thoughts about killing yourself?
  4. Have you ever tried to kill yourself?

If a teen’s answers indicate that they are experiencing suicidal ideation, take the following actions:

  1. Do not leave them alone.
  2. Remove anything that could be used in a suicide attempt, including firearms, alcohol, drugs, razors, or other sharp objects.
  3. Call 911 or the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or take the person to the nearest emergency room to seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

Teen Suicidal Ideation Treatment at Newport Academy

At Newport Academy, teen suicidal ideation treatment focuses on revealing and healing the underlying causes of suicidal ideation. These root causes are primarily trauma and attachment wounds, which give rise to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and co-occurring disorders, including substance abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm. In order to achieve our suicidal ideation treatment goals, we track the frequency of clients’ suicidal thoughts on an ongoing basis, along with their levels of depression, anxiety, and well-being. Our outcomes research illustrates the success of our integrated approach to teen mental healthcare.

In summary, suicidal ideation treatment at Newport Academy works by healing teen depression, trauma, and other mental health conditions. Teens in our programs across the country find hope, connection, and a sense of meaning and purpose. Contact us today to find out if Newport Academy is the right fit for your teen and your family.

Learn more about our approach.

“We had witnessed a steady decline in our beautiful girl, who had reached a point where she hated every aspect of herself. Her hitting rock bottom and landing at Newport, after a few failed attempts at helping her, was the gift of a lifetime.”

–Dorina L., parent of a Newport Academy alum