Adolescent Suicidal Ideation Causes, Symptoms & Signs

The signs of adolescent suicidal ideation can often be difficult to identify. Once an individual identifies the symptoms and side effects of adolescent suicidal ideatioin, the next step in the recovery journey become clear.

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

Suicidal ideation is often an indicator that a mental health condition is impacting an adolescent’s life. When a teen is experiencing ongoing thoughts about death and dying, and even imagines situations in which he or she is attempting to take his or her own life, loved ones and others close to the adolescent are right to be worried.

For many young people, thoughts of suicide result because an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness like depression is present. The longer thoughts of death persist, the more likely a youth is to either begin engaging in self-harm or attempting suicide. For this reason, it is important for parents, legal guardians, and other important people in a youth’s life to pay close attention to any signs and symptoms that would suggest this is occurring. And while it may be difficult to discern if a teen is grappling with suicidal ideation, when this sort of concern is apparent, proper care should be sought quickly.

With effective treatment, an adolescent once overwhelmed by thoughts of death can understand why they are occurring, receive services to treat any underlining mental health concerns, and develop the skills needed to ward off suicidal ideation in the future.


Suicidal ideation statistics

Researchers do not know the precise rate of suicidal ideation among adolescents, as it is difficult to collect data on such a concern. What is known, however, is that ideations of suicide are likely caused by the presence of mental health concerns that have not been successfully alleviated. Research shows that females are more likely to attempt suicide, while males are more likely to complete an attempt at suicide via violent means. Fortunately, there are services available that can save the lives of young people embattled with thoughts about death.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for suicidal ideation

When a parent, guardian, or other loved one discovers that a teen is struggling with suicidal ideation, it can bring about a number of questions including wondering why this is happening to a youth. In order to understand why an adolescent comes to struggle with ongoing thoughts about death and dying, one must consider the following research-backed explanations:

Genetic: As stated, the presence of suicidal ideation is likely due to a mental health condition or conditions. And while suicidal ideation is not inherited from one’s family members, the mental illnesses that cause such thoughts do have a genetic influence. For example, if a teen has a parent or sibling who is struggling with depression, the adolescent has a higher likelihood of also battling depression. Depression, especially when symptoms are long-standing and severe, can trigger ideations of suicide in those grappling with this sort of mental health concern when treatment is not sought or effective for the person.

Environmental: Lacking appropriate skills for coping with emotional turmoil can make an individual more vulnerable to experiencing suicidal ideation. Additionally, research states that youth who do not have a strong support network are also at risk of eventually becoming consumed by suicidal ideation. Exposure to a great deal of stress, being the victim of abuse or a crime, or residing in a chaotic environment can all also contribute to the onset of suicidal ideation. Lastly, if someone close to a youth recently died due to suicide, the risk for these damaging thoughts can increase as well.

Risk factors:

  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Lacking healthy support
  • Lacking effective coping skills
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Experiencing trauma or some form of abuse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

The telltale signs of suicidal ideation may not be as obvious to those around an adolescent who is experiencing them. Since ideations of suicide occur in the mind of a person, concerned friends, family members, and other individuals in a teen’s life should take note of the following symptoms that suggest suicidal ideation is affecting a teen’s life and seek treatment for him or her quickly:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family members
  • Talking, writing, or otherwise communicating often about death and dying
  • No longer participating in previously enjoyed activities
  • Intentionally hurting or harming oneself
  • Giving away possessions
  • Expressing a sense of helplessness and/or hopelessness

Physical symptoms:

  • Weight changes
  • Uncharacteristic bursts of energy
  • Significant change in appetite
  • Poor hygiene
  • Lack of energy
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Disrupted sleep patterns

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Problems with memory
  • Preoccupation with death and dying
  • Poor focus
  • Inability to concentrate

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Panic
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Low self-worth
  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Diminished self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Anhedonia


Effects of suicidal ideation

Adolescents who continue to struggle with suicidal ideation are at significant risk for attempting suicide. Additionally, it is possible that the following effects may also occur if proper care is delayed or never sought:

  • Poor academic performance
  • Strained and ruined interpersonal relationships
  • Social isolation
  • Onset or worsening of mental health disorders
  • Loss of motivation
  • Family discord
  • Diminished self-esteem
  • Academic failure

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders

Since suicidal ideation is often caused by mental illness, it is to be expected that certain disorders may be diagnosed in the event an adolescent begins treatment. The following disorders are the ones that may be addressed and treated within a program while a youth is working to understand and overcome suicidal ideation:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
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  • Arkansas Hospital Association
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval
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The doctors and nurses at Riverview Behavioral Health recognized the unique problems of my child.  They provided treatment that put her back on the right track.

– Parent of a former patient