The adolescent years can be especially challenging for teens. Their bodies are changing at a rapid rate and they have to deal with new emotional behaviors as their brains continue to develop. In addition to the physical and mental changes, they are also experiencing changes in peer dynamics. Friendships may become more complicated as peer pressure increases, and they may be dealing with their first experiences with romantic relationships as well. It is not surprising that all of those big changes and emotions can trigger mental health struggles for teens. During this time in their lives, some teen girls and assigned females at birth begin to show signs of depression or even suicidal ideation.
What is Suicidal Ideation?
Suicidal ideation, also known as suicidal thoughts, exists in two forms – active and passive. Active suicidal ideation means that the person is actively planning their death. In passive suicidal ideation, the person has thoughts of death but no plan to kill themselves. Most people experiencing this struggle don’t follow through with committing suicide. However, it’s considered a risk factor for suicide and must be taken very seriously.
Many teens who experience suicidal ideation also have mental health conditions. As a result, they have trouble coping with the stress of being a teen, such as dealing with rejection, failure, breakups, and family turmoil. They may not be able to conceptualize that there are ways that they can solve their problems or get back on track. That feeling of hopelessness can lead to suicidal ideation. Suicidal thoughts can take an emotional toll. For instance, teens may be so consumed by suicidal thoughts that they can’t function in their daily life.
Risk Factors and Causes
Suicidal ideation, according to researchers, is caused by a combination of risk factors that come together to influence suicidal thoughts. These risk factors and causes can include:
- Environmental factors: Being caught in a stressful situation such as expulsion, a parental divorce or moving to another place can trigger suicidal ideation in teens who already struggle with their mental health.
- Genetic factors: Psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia, are passed down to teens through the genes of family members. These disorders are known to cause suicidal ideation in those suffering from them. Substance abuse is also genetically linked, which also causes suicidal ideation.
- Trauma: Left untreated, a history of physical or sexual abuse or exposure to violence can lead to suicidal ideation. These teens may be dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks, or emotional and physical triggers.
- Physical factors: Lower levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin have been found in people with suicidal ideation. Additionally, people with terminal diseases may experience suicidal ideation.
- Exposure to suicidal behavior of loved ones: Seeing the suicidal behavior in a familiar setting may influence some people to experience suicidal ideation themselves.
- A lack of healthy coping skills: People with poor coping skills might turn to suicidal ideation as a way out of whatever struggle they are dealing with.
This article published by The US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health further explains these risk factors and possible causes.
Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation
Watching out for symptoms of suicidal ideation in your teen is important in preventing them from taking further steps towards suicide. According to an article published by the American Psychological Association, depressive symptoms that relate to suicidal ideation can include:
- Talking about death excessively. This could also include consuming media such as books, tv shows, or movies that center around death or suicide.
- The desire for isolation. Withdrawing from friends and family is a way to hide their struggles from the people around them. They may feel that they are not worth anyone else’s attention, or that they don’t deserve help.
- Sense of calm or happiness after a period of depression. Highs and lows can mask symptoms of depression. That sense of calm may come from the fact that they are thinking about suicide as an option to “solve” their problems.
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits. Sleeping or eating habits can be excessive or it can be a deprivation of one or both.
- Feelings of helplessness and desperation. They may feel that there is no solution to their problems. If you try to problem-solve with your teen and they are despondent or hopeless, it could be a sign of suicidal ideation.
- Depressed mood. Depression is often related to suicidal ideation.
- Negative self-evaluation. A lack of self-esteem can lead teens to believe that they are not important or worthy of help.
- Anhedonia. Without the ability to feel pleasure, it is difficult for teens to find joy in their life.
- Poor concentration. If your teen is excessively distracted it may be a sign that there is something deeper happening. Intrusive, suicidal thoughts could be distracting them during everyday events.
- Indecisiveness. The inability to make seemingly simple decisions may be caused by a lack of self-esteem. They may not believe that they can make the “right” choice because they’re always wrong.
- Lack of reactivity of mood. Experiencing a full range of emotions is normal and healthy. If your daughter is not reacting to anything either negatively or positively, it is a warning sign.
- Psychomotor disturbance. Slowed movements, facial immobility, mental slowing, or a delay in motor activity.
- Alcohol and drug abuse. Teens experiencing suicidal ideation are often also feeling overwhelmed by their emotions. They may lack the coping skills to deal with these emotions, so they instead turn to alcohol or drug abuse. They may be trying to “self-medicate” by numbing themselves with substance abuse.
Teen girls struggling with suicidal ideation may feel overwhelmed and completely alone. They may feel completely unable to reach out for help, or they may even make “jokes” about how the world would be better without them. It is important to take the signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation seriously. Warning signs aren’t always obvious, and they may vary from person to person. Some people make their intentions clear, while others keep suicidal thoughts and feelings secret.
Helping Teens with Suicidal Ideation
Dealing with suicidal ideation can be scary, but there are ways that you can support your daughter during this difficult time. Encourage your teen to express her emotions and help her build her emotional vocabulary. She may express that she’s feeling sad, but having terms, even scary ones, like “depressed” or “suicidal” can help her clearly and directly communicate her struggles. When your daughter is going through a depressive episode or having those suicidal thoughts, she may begin to withdraw from family and friends. That isolation can make those feelings even worse. Encourage your daughter to stay connected to the people who make her feel loved and supported.
In cases of suicidal ideation, it is crucial for you and your daughter to seek out help. Her doctor may suggest working with a mental health professional. A therapist may recommend psychotherapy, medications and lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risk of suicide. Once you have met with a therapist and created a treatment plan, make sure you follow the plan. If your daughter is undergoing treatment for suicidal ideation, remind her that it might take time to feel better. Help your daughter follow her doctor’s recommendations. You can also encourage your teen to participate in activities that will help her rebuild confidence and reconnect.
Solstice RTC Can Help
If your teen is experiencing suicidal ideation, sending them to a residential treatment center may be the best option. Our therapists have a caseload of six students, which enables them to provide a greater deal of personal contact and involvement in the teens’ everyday lives. Guided by our relationship-based approach, the therapists understand the clinical value of spending time with the students beyond the walls of the therapist office. The ability to build rapport outside of the office setting is critical to the development of a therapeutic alliance, which is necessary in the healing process.
Solstice RTC is a residential treatment center that provides a therapeutic holistic approach for teen girls and assigned female at birth ages 14 to 18. Instead of treating specific problem areas such as suicidal ideation, Solstice treats the entire individual. With a road map influenced by the archetypal Hero’s Journey, each student walks a unique and very personal path towards discovering the hero within. Students and families progress through the stages of this journey at their own pace. Although the journey is their own, they do not travel it alone. This journey is about people, discovery, growth and mastery. “Of course there is gold at the end of the rainbow, everyone knows that,” the poet wrote, “but the secret of secrets is in the cave.” It’s in the cave, the dark abyss, that we must go to face our “dragons” of fear, insecurity and self-doubt. In the slaying of those dragons, unrealized power is discovered and heroes are born. Solstice students may not realize they are heroes when they enter Solstice, but the heroes emerge during their journey, and the child you once knew returns home stronger than ever before.
For more information on how Solstice RTC can help combat suicidal ideation and other mental health issues, please call us today at (801) 406-7450.