Although not every adolescent, teen, or young adult with suicidal ideation attempts to end their life, suicidal thoughts are always a serious concern.* They’re especially worrying given suicide is a leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

If you think — or know — your youth or young adult is feeling suicidal, this can be a difficult time for your family. To help you understand what they’re experiencing and the treatment options that can help, let’s take a closer look at this important mental health concern. 

If your child is having a mental health emergency, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for immediate support by calling or texting 988. You can also text HOME to 741741 — the Crisis Text Line — from anywhere in the country to talk with a trained crisis counselor. 

What Is Suicidal Ideation?

Suicidal ideation refers to having thoughts about ending one’s life. When adolescents, teens, or young adults have these thoughts over a long period of time or they keep recurring, it’s sometimes called chronic suicidal ideation. 

What are suicidal thoughts like? Young people who are feeling suicidal may find themselves thinking: 

  • Their family and friends are better off without them. 
  • A bad situation will never improve. 
  • They want their life to end. 
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Signs and Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation in Adolescents, Teens, and Young Adults

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What symptoms of suicidal ideation or chronic suicidal ideation should parents — and other caregivers — look for in adolescents, teens, and young adults? In addition to openly talking about feeling suicidal, warning signs include:  

  • Mood swings. 
  • Changes in eating habits. 
  • Changes in sleeping habits. 
  • Isolation from family, friends, or other loved ones. 
  • Increased alcohol or drug use. 
  • Giving away belongings. 
  • Talking about feeling hopeless. 
  • Talking about feeling like a burden on others. 
  • Drawing images of suicide or writing about suicide. 
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Types of Suicidal Ideation

Suicidal thoughts can take two forms in adolescents, teens, and young adults: passive suicidal ideation and active suicidal ideation. It’s important to take each form seriously to help prevent suicide, although one type is of more immediate concern. 

Passive suicidal ideation

What is passive suicidal ideation? Youths and young adults have suicidal thoughts that reveal they have a low desire to live. However, they don’t make plans to take their lives. 

For example, they may wish to fall asleep and not wake up or want the world to end. In both examples, while adolescents, teens, and young adults are feeling suicidal, they don’t intend to attempt suicide. 

Active suicidal ideation

Active suicidal ideation involves adolescents, teens, and young adults not only having thoughts of suicide but also coming up with a plan to take their lives: when, where, and how they would do it. 

Young people who have a plan to end their lives and possess the means to follow through can be considered a higher suicide risk than those with passive suicidal ideation. This is particularly true if they acquire a weapon. For example, adolescents who have access to firearms are more likely to experience suicidal ideation and attempt suicide than those who don’t have access, according to a study published in Academic Pediatrics. 

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Causes and Risk Factors of Suicidal Ideation

LGBTQ teens who have struggled with risk factors of suicidal ideation.

What causes suicidal thoughts in adolescents, teens, and young adults? Gender- or racial-related risk factors, which can make young people feel alone, marginalized, or different, as well as health-related risk factors are just a few examples. 

Suicidal ideation risk factors include: 

  • Anxiety. 
  • Depression. 
  • Bipolar disorder. 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 
  • High stress levels. 
  • Drug or alcohol use. 
  • A family history of violence or suicide. 
  • Having chronic pain or illness. 
  • Childhood abuse or trauma. 
  • Past suicide attempts. 
  • Experiencing bullying. 
  • Experiencing racial discrimination. 
  • A recent or serious loss, such as a suicide in the family, causing grief. 
  • Being transgender or transitioning to another gender.  
  • Being part of a racial group with a high teenage suicide rate. 
  • Relationship issues, including breakups. 
  • The pressure to perform as a college athlete if the stress is overwhelming. 
  • Learning a family member or peer died by or attempted suicide. 
  • Suicide clusters. 
  • Identifying as LGBTQ+ but receiving no support from family. 
  • Gender identity issues, also known as gender dysphoria. 
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Suicidal Ideation Treatment for Adolescents, Teens, and Young Adults

If your child is struggling with thoughts of suicide, Embark Behavioral Health can help. While adolescents, teens, and young adults may require hospitalization if they’re in immediate danger of harming themselves or just attempted to take their life, once they’re stable, our effective suicidal ideation treatment can be key to their healing journey 

Treatment for suicidal thoughts and chronic suicidal ideation takes place in multiple settings, using a variety of therapies. Your child could receive care in our virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP), at an outpatient clinic, or at a residential treatment center.     

Treatment settings

Embark uses family, group, and individual therapy sessions to provide treatment for suicidal thoughts that adolescents, teens, and young adults are having 

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    Family therapy

    Family therapy helps with suicidal ideation by involving parents and caregivers in a child’s therapeutic process. By being vulnerable during therapy sessions and working to improve their interactions with adolescents, teens, and young adults, parents and caregivers establish an environment where young people feel safe to work toward healing from thoughts of suicide not only while with a therapist but also at home. 

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    Group therapy

    Group therapy helps with suicidal thoughts by allowing young people to share their struggles with suicidal ideation in a setting where they get support from a therapist as well as their peers. They also receive mental health education and help processing their emotions. 

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    Individual therapy

    Individual therapy helps with suicidal ideation by allowing young people to work one-on-one with a therapist skilled at treating those having thoughts of suicide. 


When it comes to suicidal ideation therapy, Embark offers multiple forms of treatment to meet adolescents, teens, and young adults’ needs.  

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Attachment-focused therapy 

Attachment-focused therapy promotes establishing safe, secure, nurturing relationships that help youths and young adults regulate their emotions, which can be helpful when dealing with suicidal thoughts.   

TMS therapy for adolescents, teens, and young adults.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) 

When it comes to using DBT for suicidal ideation, this treatment approach can help adolescents, teens, and young adults who are feeling suicidal better cope with stress through teaching and practicing skills related to distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and mindfulness.  

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Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) 

Regarding using TF-CBT for suicidal ideation, this type of therapy can help adolescents, teens, and young adults resolve the lingering effects of trauma, which can include symptoms related to anxiety, depression, and PTSD, which are risk factors for feeling suicidal.


Experiential therapy 

Experiential therapy uses practices such as art therapy to give adolescents, teens, and young adults who have thoughts of suicide more ways to process and understand past experiences and emotions than just "talking about it.  

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Treatment programs for suicidal ideation

Embark meets adolescents, teens, and young adults where they are to provide effective suicidal ideation treatment. If your child is thinking about suicide, options include our virtual intensive outpatient program, outpatient clinics, and residential treatment centers. 

Teen in flexible virtual IOP program to help with depression.

Virtual IOP 

Our virtual IOP uses a secure patient portal to provide family, group, and individual therapy sessions with industry-leading therapists skilled in treating suicidal feelings.   

A group of young adults after receiving TMS therapy at Embark Behavioral Health’s Campbell, California outpatient clinic.

Outpatient clinics 

Embark outpatient clinics provide adolescents, teens, and young adults with suicidal ideation treatment through family, group, and individual therapy sessions at a facilityand young people live at home when not receiving care 

Teen and adolescent girls receiving therapy for anxiety and OCD at short term residential treatment center.

Residential treatment centers 

Residential treatment centers (RTCs) provide adolescents, teens, and young adults who are having thoughts of suicide with 24-hour care away from home through family, group, and individual therapy sessions 

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Your healing journey starts here.

Contact Embark Behavioral Health to learn more about how to treat suicidal ideation in adolescents, teens, and young adults today.

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