One of the most overwhelming challenges for a parent to face is the worry that their child may cause harm to themselves. At Paradigm, we understand that having a teen that is experiencing suicidal thoughts can feel impossibly difficult, intimidating, and frightening. Often, it’s hard for parents to even know where to start. We strongly recommend that if you believe your teen is at risk of harming themselves, please get immediate help from a professional therapist and/or psychiatrist, who can conduct the proper diagnostic testing to ensure your teen’s physical safety. And if your teen tells you that he or she is at risk of hurting himself/herself, take them to get professional help immediately, where they can be offered the intensive support and protection they need, during this vulnerable and difficult time. If you don’t have a doctor or therapist that you’re familiar with, take them to the hospital, where you can be guided to the right place and people. If it turns out that Paradigm is the best place for your teen to get treatment, we can walk you through this first difficult step, as well as all the others that will follow.
One thing that can be difficult as a parent trying to recognize if a teen is suicidal, is that suicidal symptoms often overlap with symptoms of another disorder and/or illness the teen is experiencing, such as depression. However, there are a number of warning signs to look out for that warrant professional help. Some of these include talking about wanting to die or not wanting to live, even if they phrase it jokingly, like, “I want to die,” or, “I wish I had never been born.” Some other warning signs are when teens withdraw from others to an extreme degree and always want to be alone; when teens swing drastically between moods from one day to the next; doing self-destructive things that reveal little to no fear of self-harm; changing normal patterns or routines, such as eating or sleeping; and being preoccupied with negative or depressive thoughts, especially about death. Sometimes it can be hard, especially with teens, to determine the severity of the teens’ feelings, thoughts, words, and expressions, and therefore, determine whether something is a warranted “warning sign.” Although it can be difficult and uncomfortable to do, we strongly urge parents who are questioning or even wondering if their teen is at risk, to get professional help, so that they have guidance in figuring out what their teen needs and what are the best ways to support them.
In Teen Suicidal Ideation treatment at Paradigm, our first goal is to ensure the teen’s physical safety, and just after this, we want for the teen and parents to be as knowledgeable as possible about what’s happening. Because the experience of having suicidal thoughts is so intense, very often teens can feel hopeless, isolated, and ashamed, as if they are the only teens to have ever felt this way. In reality, many more teens than they are aware of suffer symptoms of depression during adolescence, including suicidal ideation. So one of our approaches is to help teens and families understand what’s happening from a more scientific point of view.
Teen suicidal ideation is a tragic reaction to severely stressful situations, often including depression or depressive-like symptoms, in which teens have thoughts of taking their own lives. Suicidal behavior can be spoken about on a spectrum that ranges from fleeting suicidal thoughts to committing a suicidal act. The more severe the condition, the more consistently teens are troubled by thoughts about committing this act, which can often grow in detail and precision over time, if the teen doesn’t get help. One of the most important factors in determining a teen’s risk of actually committing a suicidal act is whether the teen has a specific plan and the means to complete the plan. Though the majority of people who suffer from suicidal thoughts at some time do not commit a suicidal act, of those who do, the great majority of these people are suffering from a psychiatric disorder, including substance abuse. Along these lines, it’s important to note that it can be common for teens to have suicidal thoughts, during a particularly difficult period of time. It doesn’t mean that the teen will always struggle with these thoughts or will always struggle with depression. This is an extremely important message for teens to understand, because the feelings and hopelessness associated with suicidal thoughts can be so overwhelming, and they don’t yet have the experience of years to understand that these feelings are only temporary and they will feel better soon. And furthermore, that some of the great stressors of their lives (hormones, relationships with peers, school classes) are not things they’ll have to deal with forever, and that in many ways, social relationships get much easier, as you get older.
At Paradigm, we work closely and carefully with teens who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, through a number of different treatment methods and approaches. The therapeutic work to address suicidal thoughts is woven into the teens’ overreaching treatment plan, which will be to address the underlying symptoms and causes present, which are leading the teens to have these severe, harmful thoughts. By addressing the more causal roots of what a teen is going through, we’re better able to help teens to escape from the thought patterns that they’ve become accustomed to, as well as recognize what sorts of support resources teens might need. First and foremost, our work is to ensure that teens are safe and not at risk of harming themselves. Beyond teens’ immediate safety, we want to help them work through the thought patterns and belief systems that have come into place, so that we can then support them to address their deeper needs. This often may include working with them to help them gain relief from the severe feelings that they’re experiencing, whether from depression, anxiety, bipolar, or another mental illness. There are a number of ways we can help teens to gain relief from these overwhelming symptoms, most will include a combination of medication and therapy sessions. Once teens gain some relief from their depressive symptoms, they are more likely to feel emotionally stable and therefore, be much more able to engage in therapeutic work to address the underlying reasons and causes for their current struggles. During this time, we work with the teens through different stages, including helping them address the Co-Occurring disorder or symptoms that are present; acknowledge difficulties within relationships and address how to improve them; and carefully evaluate triggers and help the teens to become equipped as to how to overcome them, in the future. We also teach a number of different healthy coping techniques, such as meditation, breathing exercises, and other similar things, so that teens can learn healthy ways of finding relief, rather than turning back to old habits, when under pressure. In every way possible, we not only want to help teens to overcome their suicidal thoughts, but to equip them and empower them with strong coping mechanisms, so that they can successfully navigate the stressors and conflicts of their lives.
If there is one strong message to share about a teen having suicidal thoughts, it’s to get help because there is definitely hope. Your teen is not going to feel like this forever, and change can begin now. Life can be much, much better and it’s possible to be happy, beginning today.