Understanding Your Teen’s Ideation of Suicide

It’s a scary word. It’s a scary topic. Although it is a growing and serious epidemic, we often avoid talking about it. For this reason and others, many people don’t fully understand how, what, why, and most importantly – how to prevent it. But we have to start talking about it and educating parents.

Suicide is a teen epidemic. Did you know the CDC is estimating that up to 17% of teens have actually thought about suicide? It’s a sobering statistic. And of course it makes all parents wonder – has my teen thought about suicide? Whether your teen has or hasn’t thought about suicide, understanding teen suicide ideation is a critical step for all parents so that we can better identify and address signs and symptoms BEFORE something terrible happens.

Suicide Ideation

Ideation is forming thoughts and ideas, even entertaining fantasies or visions. Suicidal ideation is when an individual is thinking about suicide to any degree. The important thing to understand is that there are levels and degrees of suicidal ideation. A teen thinking about suicide isn’t necessarily going to follow through with it. There are two basic types of suicidal thoughts: active and passive. Active thoughts are those that focus on actually committing suicide – how they would do it, what it would be like, continual obsession, research, and even taking steps in that direction. Most depressed teens are engaging in passive suicidal thoughts where they think vaguely about the act or consequences as a possible way to deal with their situation.

Why Is This Happening?

The painful question that most parents then have to answer is “Why is my teen thinking about suicide?” Nearly always these teens are suffering from undiagnosed, untreated, or unsuccessfully treated depression. Teens with depression are at extreme risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. It’s important to realize and remember that it isn’t your fault as a parent.

Instead, look carefully for signs of suicidal thoughts. They may begin withdrawing, experiencing mood swings, turning to drugs or other numbing attempts, talking about or obsessing over death, changing their eating and sleeping habits, or expressing frustration or hopelessness.

What Can I Do?

If you think your teen may be thinking about suicide you need to act right away. There are resources online for you and seeking out counseling is an important first step. Getting help for both you and your teen is critical. Don’t assume that the thoughts aren’t serious or that your teen would never think about suicide. Talk to your teen about your concerns, express love, and stand by their side as you seek help together.

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