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Two people sit next to each other on a bed, one comforts the other explaining how DBT can help her overcome suicidal ideation.

You Can Overcome Suicidal Ideation With DBT

Research shows that dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can help those with suicidal ideation manage their symptoms. Learn more about the benefits of DBT for suicidal ideation here.


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Trigger warning: Self-harm, suicide. 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.

How DBT treats suicidal ideation

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a therapy that can help people effectively manage their emotions and cope with distressing thoughts and feelings. In the case of suicidal ideation, DBT can help a person learn healthier ways to regulate painful emotions and develop skills to manage distress more effectively. Through DBT skills such as mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness, a person can learn to identify triggers for suicidal thoughts and develop strategies to cope with them in a healthier way. By developing these skills, a person with suicidal ideation can reduce the intensity and frequency of their suicidal thoughts and improve their overall mental well-being.

Skills taught in DBT for suicidal ideation

DBT teaches people a wide range of skills to help them manage and reduce their suicidal ideation. These skills can provide a framework for cultivating a more balanced and fulfilling life, even in the face of intense emotional distress. Skills taught in DBT for suicidal ideation are as follows:


With this DBT skill, people are taught to be present in the moment and observe their thoughts and feelings without judgment. This skill helps them to recognize when they are experiencing thoughts related to suicidal ideation and to develop a non-reactive stance towards those thoughts.

Distress tolerance

With this aspect of DBT, people learn coping strategies to tolerate painful emotions without engaging in self-harming behaviors or acting on suicidal impulses. They are taught to engage in healthy distractions, self-soothing activities, and crisis survival strategies.

Emotion regulation

Emotion regulation skills focus on understanding and managing intense emotions that may contribute to suicidal ideation. People learn to identify and label their emotions, increase positive emotional experiences, and decrease emotion dysregulation. 

Interpersonal effectiveness

Interpersonal effectiveness skills help people communicate their needs and boundaries effectively in their relationships. Improving interpersonal skills can help reduce isolation and increase support, which is important for managing suicidal ideation.

Radical acceptance

This DBT skill encourages people to learn to fully accept their present reality, even when it is painful or distressing. This skill can help reduce the struggle with difficult emotions and thoughts related to suicidal ideation.

Benefits of DBT for suicidal ideation 

People who undergo DBT can experience long-term benefits in managing suicidal ideation. DBT teaches people skills for coping with intense emotions, improving relationships, and regulating behaviors, including suicidal behavior. By learning to recognize and change harmful thought patterns, people can reduce the frequency and intensity of suicidal ideation, ultimately leading to improved mental health and overall well-being.

How quickly does DBT work for suicidal ideation? 

Studies have shown that for many people, DBT can lead to a reduction in suicidal ideation in a relatively short amount of time. People who participate in DBT therapy may start to see improvements in their thoughts and suicidal behavior within a few weeks or months of starting treatment. DBT’s emphasis on teaching coping skills and enhancing emotion regulation can have a positive impact on people struggling with suicidal ideation.

How is medication used to treat suicidal ideation?

Medication is commonly used to help manage symptoms of suicidal ideation and can be an important part of a person’s treatment plan. Antidepressants are often prescribed to help stabilize mood and reduce feelings of depression and hopelessness. Mood stabilizers may also be used to help regulate intense emotions and reduce impulsive behavior. Additionally, atypical antipsychotics can be prescribed to address any psychotic symptoms that may be present. It’s important for a person to work closely with a healthcare provider to find the right medication and dosage to address their specific needs.

Other types of treatments for suicidal ideation 

In addition to DBT and medication, some other types of psychotherapy treatments for suicidal ideation are as follows: 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT helps people recognize and change negative thought patterns and beliefs that contribute to their suicidal thoughts. By learning to challenge and reframe these thoughts, people can develop coping strategies to manage their emotions and reduce the risk of acting on their suicidal ideation.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

IPT focuses on improving the relationship and communication skills of the person with suicidal ideation, as well as addressing any interpersonal issues that may be contributing to their suicidal ideation. By strengthening their social support network and resolving conflicts, people can experience a reduction in their suicidal thoughts and feelings of isolation.

Intensive outpatient program for suicidal ideation 

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) is used to treat people experiencing suicidal ideation by providing them with intensive therapy and support while allowing them to return home each day. This type of program is typically recommended for people who do not require the level of care provided in a residential facility but still need more support than traditional outpatient therapy. IOP often incorporates therapy modalities such as CBT and DBT to help individuals develop coping skills and manage their suicidal thoughts. By addressing the underlying issues contributing to suicidal ideation and providing ongoing support, IOP can help people gain stability and improve their mental health.

Treatment for suicidal ideation at Charlie Health 

If a young person in your life is struggling with suicidal ideation, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health offers a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) that provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with complex mental health conditions, including supporting suicidal adolescents. Our expert clinicians incorporate DBT into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic treatment, managing suicidal ideation is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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