Author: Claudia M. Elsig, MD
Suicide is a tragedy for individuals and for the family and friends the person leaves behind. Shockingly, statistics show depression in teenagers is becoming more commonplace, and suicide in young people is rising. To tackle this alarming trend and prevent suicides, everyone must become much more aware of the risks and warning signs.
This blog discusses suicidal ideation, how to spot the warning signs, and considers what can be done to intervene.
What is suicidal ideation?
Suicidal ideation is the idea or thought of committing suicide. It is the term used to describe a preoccupation with death and suicide. Research shows that suicidal ideations present in a “waxing and waning manner” – the magnitude and characteristics of these thoughts fluctuate dramatically.1
Importantly, there isn’t a typical ‘suicidal victim’ or a typical set of ‘suicidal ideations’, but there are some warning signs you can look out for.
Warning signs of suicidal ideation to look out for
Suicides are preventable, but suicidal ideation can be hard to spot. There can be dramatic fluctuations in the intensity and frequency of suicidal ideation in individuals.
There are, however, several red flags to look out for:
- Changes in eating habits
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Becoming sad or withdrawn
- Extreme levels of hopelessness and despair
- Increased anxiety
- Apathetic or tired all the time
- Irritable, agitated, or full of rage
- Behaving recklessly
- Any other changes to normal behaviour or mood swings
- Talking about, researching, or journaling about death and suicide
- Talking about feeling a burden to others
- Signs of self-harm
- Giving away belongings
- Abandoning future plans
A systematic review of evidence-based literature concluded, “greater time spent on online social networking promotes self-harm behavior and suicidal ideation in vulnerable adolescents.”2
What can be done to intervene?
Often, the warning signs of suicidal ideation are subtle. In some cases, there are no warning signs at all. Suicide is preventable, but it requires strategies at all levels of society, from families to governments’ education, health and social policies.
Communication, listening, and empathy
Addressing the stigmas around mental health is critical.
Improved communication can help to break down stigmas and generate open discussions about mental health. This is especially important for young men, who can find it difficult to talk about their feelings.
The first step for anyone considering suicide is to talk. That won’t be easy for most individuals in this state, so it is critical that people around the person (family, friends, colleagues, teachers) can spot the warning signs of mental health deterioration and open up a conversation.
Even when a child or young person isn’t communicating, make space to listen. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Be aware that boys may find it more difficult to talk about their feelings. Journeys in the car can provide a safe space to talk – it’s private, and not having direct eye contact can make it easier for someone to talk as they find it less confrontational. Remember, when a young person is struggling with suicidal thoughts, they may feel embarrassed or ashamed.
Always respond with empathy. If a young person can say they feel suicidal, avoid responding negatively. Saying things like ‘don’t be ridiculous’ or ‘you don’t mean that’ or ‘you have nothing to worry about’ will just make them feel unheard. This kind of response will also likely prevent the person from opening up any further.
Responding with empathy might look like this: ‘you must be in a lot of pain to be considering this’ or ‘it sounds like things are very complicated and difficult for you right now’. These kinds of statements show concern without judgment and are more likely to encourage the person to speak more freely about their feelings.
Teach boys and young men how to be vulnerable
In a recent survey of U.S. adolescents on gender equality, one-third of boys said they felt that society expects them to hide their feelings when they are sad or frightened.3
An important part of the solution to tackle suicide rates in young men is to teach them how to be comfortable with vulnerability and show them how to express emotions more freely. This is a societal problem. There needs to be large-scale reform in education and health to normalize the expression of feelings during childhood and adolescence. Parents and carers must also model vulnerability.
As a society, we must facilitate time to connect and enable boys and teens to discuss their feelings. Coaches and youth workers can play a valuable role.
Dr. Cara Natterson, a pediatrician and author of Decoding Boys: New Science Behind the Subtle Art of Raising Sons, says when boys cry, the dialogue should be positive. She advocates saying something like, ‘When you cry, it shows me you’re sad, and that helps me because I wouldn’t otherwise know that something was upsetting you’.3
Reframing how we speak with boys and young men is critical. We must teach boys it is acceptable to be vulnerable and that it is all right to cry.
Don’t dismiss drama
Comments such as “I wish I was dead” or “I’m going to kill myself” shouldn’t be dismissed as teenage drama; such statements should always be taken seriously.
Remove the means
Impulsivity plays a greater role in the suicide attempts of young men. Try to remove any weapons, guns, medications, pesticides, or other potentially harmful objects.
Get professional help
Facilitating access to clinical intervention is key. If you suspect your child will commit suicide, take them to the hospital emergency department straight away. If you are confident there isn’t an immediate risk, reach out to your doctor, psychiatrist, or pediatrician. Always be aware that not everyone who is thinking of suicide will show typical warning signs. Sometimes, the signs will be incredibly subtle. It is up to parents and carers to educate themselves on the cues to look out for.
There are many charities and suicide prevention helplines available to provide support. Suicide Stop, an international suicide prevention organization, shares an extensive list of countries and their suicide helplines here.
Treatment at CALDA
Treatment for suicidal ideation belongs in the hands of specialists. At CALDA, we provide a safe healing space to individuals who have considered taking their own life. Our team of experts develops a personal, creative treatment strategy for each client, which draws on all proven formulas of integrative medicine.
Along with detailed psychiatric diagnostics, we perform a comprehensive clinical-chemical analysis and a targeted genetic analysis to determine status and personal risk profile. Using these comprehensive diagnostics, we can tailor our programs to suit the individual. We treat the causes, not the symptoms. Wherever possible, we work without the use of psychiatric drugs.
Through our holistic therapeutic programs, we work to heal past trauma, release inner tension, and foster socio-emotional life skills, so the person can function normally and enjoy life again.
CALDA is a highly private clinic for self-payers only. We offer the utmost discretion and dedicate our whole team to treating one client at a time.
If you would like a private, preliminary chat about a young person, you have concerns about, please contact us. We would love to tell you more about our programs and how we can help.
- Harmer B, et al. 18May2022. Suicidal Ideation. StatPearls [Internet].
- Memon AM, et al. Oct-Dec2018. The role of online social networking on deliberate self-harm and suicidality in adolescents: A systematized review of literature. Indian J Psychiatry. Oct-Dec2018;60(4):384-392.
- Pearson C. 4Mar2021. How To Raise Boys Who Aren’t Afraid To Be Vulnerable. Published by Huffingtonpost.co.uk [Accessed online 11Nov2022]