What Is the Best Therapy for Suicidal Thoughts?
Learn how therapy, lifestyle changes, and emergency support can help young people manage suicidal thoughts and develop healthy coping skills.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
January 9, 2024
Table of Contents
Trigger warning: Suicide, self-harm. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or are in danger of harming yourself, this is a mental health emergency. Contact The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline 24/7 by calling or texting 988.
In 2021, more than 48,000 people across the U.S. lost their lives to suicide. This translates to approximately one death every 11 minutes, with suicide reported as the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10-14 years old and 20-34 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Suicide can affect anyone, but there are certain risk factors—like identifying as part of certain minority groups or dealing with certain mental health conditions like bipolar disorder—that put people more at risk.
In the same year, more than 12 million people, including many teens and young adults, struggled with suicidal thoughts, defined as thinking about or planning suicide. Although suicidal thoughts don’t always lead to suicidal behaviors, they’re still an indication of underlying mental health struggles and require professional mental health support.
“Clinicians want people to talk about suicide because if they talk about it, we have a better chance of helping them,” said Charlie Health’s Clinical Director, Sam Adams, LPC, in an article debunking myths about suicide. Rebecca Holland, a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Charlie Health, agreed, stating that seeking therapy for suicidal thoughts is brave and can “show that someone is there when it feels like no one is.” Below, we delve into the best therapy for suicidal thoughts.
What is the best therapy for suicidal thoughts?
Suicidal thoughts, also known as suicidal ideation, is a broad term that describes both passive and active suicidal ideation. Passive suicidal ideation means that a person has thoughts of suicide without any plans or intention to harm themselves, while active suicidal ideation refers to suicidal thoughts with the motivation and intention to carry out their plan. It’s important to seek help for suicidal thoughts if any of the following apply to you:
- You frequently think about suicide
- You have obsessive thoughts about taking your own life
- You’ve noticed a major change in your mood or behaviors
- You’re experiencing symptoms of depression
- You’ve made a suicide plan
So, that said, what’s the best treatment for teens and young adults who are experiencing suicidal thoughts? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but here are several evidence-based treatments that have been proven to help manage suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy
1. Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of mental health treatment used to help people identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. Research shows it’s one of the most effective and commonly used forms of therapy for treating suicidal thoughts and can help teens and young adults develop coping mechanisms to live a more balanced and fulfilling life. With CBT, people have a chance to identify how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are linked to their suicidal ideation. From there, they learn how to reframe their thoughts and actions to better align with their mental health goals.
2. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
Another type of mental health treatment for youth who are struggling with harmful thought patterns and behaviors is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Through individual therapy, group sessions, and skills training, DBT teaches teens and young adults how to manage challenging emotions, navigate distressing situations, and better communicate their needs to others.
3. Group therapy
Group therapy is another form of support that can be effective for youth struggling with suicidal ideation. Group sessions, such as those offered at Charlie Health (more on this below), create a safe and empathetic space for people to share their experiences with others who have faced similar challenges. It’s an opportunity for youth to gain social support, develop their self-confidence, and work toward healthier coping mechanisms and emotional regulation.
Are there other ways to manage suicidal thoughts?
If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, it’s important to seek professional mental health help right away. Therapy allows you to openly discuss your feelings, explore the issues behind your suicidal thoughts, and develop the skills to better manage emotions. In addition to therapy, there are several other approaches that can support your mental health journey.
1. Ask about medication management
Some people may benefit from medication to help manage suicidal ideation or other mental health conditions that may be responsible for suicidal feelings. This varies by person, so it’s best to speak with your therapist to see if psychiatric medication is an option for you.
2. Create a safety plan
A self-harm safety plan is a comprehensive, personalized resource that someone can refer to when they feel the urge to self-harm. Although not all people with suicidal thoughts will harm themselves, this document can be modified to help anyone who is struggling with difficult feelings, memories, or situations. Your safety plan should document triggers, as well as coping strategies for feeling calm and centered. It should also include a list of friends, family members, teachers, and other trusted adults that you consider to be part of your support system.
3. Consider protective factors
Protective factors are defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as things that can help reduce young people’s risk of suicidal thoughts and increase their chances of growing into mentally stable adults (the opposite of risk factors). If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, consider the role that the following protective factors play in your life:
- Interpersonal and community connectedness
- Problem-solving and conflict resolution skills
- Strong sense of cultural identity
4. Practice healthy habits
In addition to therapy, there are small but significant lifestyle changes that can make a positive impact on how you think and feel. Here are a few ways to practice self-care and build healthier habits:
- Avoid drugs and alcohol
- Meditate or practice mindfulness
- Get quality sleep
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet
- Maintain a strong social support system
- Find creative outlets for your emotions
- Spend time in nature
5. Plan for emergencies
If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, please know that the following suicide prevention organizations are available to support people during their most challenging moments.
- The Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741)
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (988)
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine (1-800-950-NAMI (6264))
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline (1-800-662-HELP (4357))
Get help with Charlie Health
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, suicidal behavior, or other mental health concerns, it’s important to get professional mental health support. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) offers more than once-weekly support for young people dealing with complex mental health conditions, including suicidal ideation. Our expert clinicians can incorporate suicidal ideation treatment into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With treatment, managing thoughts of suicide is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.