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What Is Suicidal Ideation in Teens?

Last Updated: March 2021

Suicidal ideation is an all-encompassing term that means having thoughts of suicide.* These thoughts can range from a simple passive thought to more detailed plans around the act.

Ideation is not the same as a suicidal act or attempt, but it does have the potential to go from a thought to an action and should be taken seriously if your child is experiencing it. Intervention at the ideation stage may help keep your teenager from taking their own life.

Learn more about suicidal ideation in teens and contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, if your child is in crisis.

Identifying a Suicide Threat in a Teenager

It’s not uncommon for teenagers to joke about wanting to “end it all” over something like lack of sleep, a social dilemma, or work problems that they may be experiencing. However, for some teens, it can be a cry for help.

On average, 17% of adolescents have had suicidal thoughts at least once in the past year. If your child is talking about suicidal thoughts, it should be considered real, and swift action should be taken.

Suicidal ideation is sometimes the result of depression or another mental illness, but it’s important to remember that any teen can suffer from suicidal thoughts. In these instances, proper behavioral and mental health treatment can often aid in prevention.

If you see any of the following signs in your child who has mentioned suicide, seek help right away:

  • Changes in eating habits
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Extreme changes in emotions
  • Withdrawal

The Danger of Suicidal Ideation in Teens

Suicidal ideation can last for hours, days or months before a suicide attempt. Every second that a teenager sits alone with thoughts of suicide is endangering their life.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data for 2020, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for ages 10-14 and the third-leading cause for ages 15-24.

One of the best things you can do to prevent suicide and suicidal ideation is to reach out for help if you know your child is in crisis or suffering from depression or another condition.

Treatment for Suicidal Ideation in Teenagers

Due to the possible outcome of suicidal ideation, it is crucial to seek help now, if your child confides in you that they are thinking of taking their life.

It is better to react quickly than leave the possibility of any harm.

If you are unsure what to do, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for immediate support by calling, texting, or chatting 988. If you seek treatment for your teen at the hospital, first responders and hospital personnel can assess your child’s risk, then connect you with proper care from behavioral or mental health treatment centers from there.

*This article is for informational purposes only and not to be considered medical advice. If your child is having a mental health emergency, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for immediate support by calling or texting 988 or chatting online. You can also text HOME to 741741 ─ the Crisis Text Line ─ from anywhere in the country to talk with a trained crisis counselor.  

Embark is the most trusted name in teen and young adult mental health treatment. We’re driven to find the help your family needs. If you’re looking for support, contact us today! 

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Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of outpatient centers and residential programs offering premier mental health treatment for preteens, teens, and young adults. Dedicated to its big mission of reversing the trends of teen and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark offers a robust continuum of care with different levels of service and programming; has a deep legacy of over 25 years serving youths; works with families to adjust treatment in real time to improve results; treats the entire family using an evidence-supported approach; and offers the highest levels of quality care and safety standards. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including virtual services, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), therapeutic day treatment programs, also known as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), residential treatment, and outdoor therapy, visit embarkbh.com.