Female teen receiving impactful news that her friend committed suicide.

Suicide Ideation in Teens: A Complete Guide

A young female teen having suicidal thoughts; is in clear need of treatment.
An Introduction

Chapter 1

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Chapter 1: An Introduction

Suicide ideation (serious thoughts about, or a preoccupation with committing suicide) among teenagers is a highly concerning issue that demands urgent attention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates increased by approximately 36% between 2000–2021. 

Suicide is the No. 1 killer of adolescent girls and is the second leading cause of death among individuals aged 15 to 24, with suicidal ideation being a significant precursor. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics found that nearly 17% of high school students reported seriously considering suicide. 

Another JAMA study reported a −3.1% annual decrease in suicidal ideation between 1991 and 2009, followed by a 3.4% annual increase between 2009 and 2019. A third JAMA study reported that among high school–aged youths (14–18 years), 2,039 suicides occurred in 2018, making it the second leading cause of death for this age group after unintentional injuries.

Parental awareness and proactive intervention are crucial in combating this alarming trend. Adolescents often hide their struggles, making it imperative for parents to establish open lines of communication and actively engage in their children's emotional well-being. Early detection of warning signs, such as withdrawal from social activities, changes in behavior, or persistent sadness, can help parents seek professional help promptly.

The severity of suicide ideation among teenagers requires collective efforts from parents, educators, and mental health professionals to create a supportive environment where adolescents feel safe to express their emotions, thus reducing the risk of tragic outcomes.

In this post, I’ll highlight what suicidal ideation is, how it’s different than suicide, risk factors, and triggers, the impact of suicide ideation on teens, and preventive strategies for parents and guardians.

A young male teen sitting in a dark room and having suicidal thoughts; is clear need of treatment here at Clearfork.
What is Suicide Ideation?

Chapter 2

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Chapter 2: What is Suicide Ideation?

Suicide ideation refers to the presence of persistent thoughts or fantasies about one's death or the act of suicide. It is a concerning aspect of mental health, particularly among teenagers, where emotional and psychological turbulence can magnify the vulnerability to such ideation. 

Adolescents may experience different forms of suicide ideation, ranging from passive to active. Passive ideation involves fleeting thoughts of death without concrete plans or intent, while active ideation entails more explicit thoughts about the act of suicide and may involve planning or consideration of methods.

The relationship between suicide ideation and mental health is intricate and multifaceted. Mental health struggles, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or substance abuse, can significantly contribute to the emergence of suicidal thoughts in teenagers. 

These conditions may amplify feelings of hopelessness, isolation, and emotional pain, making suicide ideation appear as a potential escape from distress.

Furthermore, external factors like academic pressure, social isolation, family conflicts, and exposure to bullying can compound the risk of suicide ideation. Adolescents may lack the coping mechanisms to navigate these challenges, making them more susceptible to such thoughts. 

Recognizing and addressing mental health concerns in teenagers is vital, as untreated conditions can exacerbate suicide ideation and potentially lead to attempts.

Prevention and intervention strategies encompass fostering open communication, access to mental health resources, and destigmatizing seeking help. 

By promoting mental well-being and providing necessary support, we can strive to mitigate the impact of suicide ideation and its associated risks among teenagers.

A male teen feeling the effects of depression and contemplating suicide; is in clear need of treatment.

Differentiating Suicide Ideation from Suicidal Behavior

Suicidal thoughts and actual suicide attempts are distinct but interrelated phenomena, each carrying its level of urgency and significance. 

Suicidal thoughts encompass a range of feelings, fantasies, or ideations about ending one's life. These thoughts can vary in intensity and frequency, from fleeting moments of hopelessness to persistent contemplation. While they might not culminate in immediate harm, they are crucial indicators of emotional distress and should never be dismissed lightly.

On the other hand, a suicide attempt involves a deliberate act aimed at ending one's life. This can encompass a wide spectrum of behaviors, from self-harm gestures to more lethal methods. 

| Suicide attempts demand immediate attention and intervention due to the imminent danger they pose. It's essential to note that not all individuals who experience suicidal thoughts will progress to an attempt.

Taking all forms of suicide ideation seriously is of paramount importance. 

Suicidal thoughts can escalate rapidly, and individuals may move from contemplation to action in a short span. Responding empathetically and supportively to any expression of distress can provide an opportunity for early intervention and professional help. 

Given the potential gravity of the situation, open communication, active listening, and connection with mental health resources are critical steps in ensuring the safety and well-being of those struggling with suicidal thoughts. 

Acknowledging the seriousness of all levels of suicidal ideation can play a vital role in preventing potential tragedies and fostering a culture of compassion and understanding.

A male teen showing frustration and having suicidal thoughts. Is clear need of treatment here at Clearfork Academy.
Recognizing Signs of Suicide Ideation in Teens

Chapter 3

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Chapter 3: Recognizing Signs of Suicide Ideation in Teens

Recognizing suicide ideation in teens requires careful attention to a range of behavioral, emotional, and psychological signs. 

Behavioral indicators might include sudden withdrawal from social activities, hobbies, or relationships, coupled with a decline in academic performance or disinterest in personal appearance. Teens exhibiting increased risk-taking behavior, substance abuse, or giving away prized possessions may also signal distress.

Emotional cues could manifest as persistent feelings of hopelessness, despair, or overwhelming sadness. Teens may display a noticeable lack of enthusiasm or joy, even in situations that once brought them happiness. Expressions of self-loathing, worthlessness, or guilt might become more frequent. They may also become socially isolated, avoiding contact with friends and family.

Psychological signs often include a marked change in sleep patterns, either insomnia or excessive sleep, as well as appetite fluctuations. An abrupt decline in concentration, memory, or decision-making abilities might become evident. 

Additionally, expressing a preoccupation with death, dying, or an obsession with morbid themes in their communication or art could be indicative of underlying issues.

It's important to note that these signs can vary from person to person, and the presence of one or more does not definitively indicate suicidal ideation. However, if these behaviors, emotions, or psychological indicators are persistent or escalating, it is crucial to seek professional help promptly. 

Engaging in open, non-judgmental conversations and connecting teens with mental health resources can provide the necessary support to help them navigate their challenges.

Verbal Clues and Expressions

Verbal expressions that hint at suicide ideation carry immense significance as potential cries for help. These statements might be subtle or direct, but they all signal deep emotional turmoil. 

Actively listening and fostering open communication are key in such situations. 

Truly listening to someone in distress allows them to feel heard and understood, fostering a sense of connection. 

Open communication eliminates the stigma around discussing mental health struggles, encouraging individuals to express their pain without fear of judgment.

Engaging in open conversations about suicide ideation provides an opportunity for timely intervention. 

Loved ones and professionals can offer support, encourage seeking help, and guide individuals toward proper resources. 

Creating a safe space for dialogue promotes mental health awareness and emphasizes that seeking help is a sign of strength. By addressing these issues openly, we can break down barriers, save lives, and nurture a culture of compassion and understanding.

A mother looking for signs of suicide in her teen daughter; this exercise can be a lifesaver.

Checklist for Parents to Identify Potential Indicators

1. Prioritize Safety 

  • If your teen is in immediate danger, call emergency services or take them to the nearest emergency room.
  • Remove any means of self-harm or access to lethal items from your home.
  • Maintain close supervision to ensure their safety.

2. Seek Professional Help

  • Reach out to a mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist experienced in working with adolescents.
  • Schedule an urgent appointment to assess the severity of their situation and develop a treatment plan.
  • Our compassionate, knowledgeable team of licensed therapists at Clearfork Academy is available to help

3. Maintain Open Communication

  • Create a safe, non-judgmental space where your teen feels comfortable discussing their feelings and concerns.
  • Encourage open conversations about their emotions, thoughts, and struggles.

4. Engage Supportive Adults

  • Inform school counselors, teachers, and other adults involved in your teen's life about the situation so they can provide appropriate support.

5. Monitor and Observe

  • Keep a close watch on your teen's behavior, mood changes, and any worsening of symptoms.
  • Take note of any signs of improvement or deterioration.

6. Build a Support Network

  • Connect with family members, friends, or support groups who can provide emotional assistance for both you and your teen.

7. Educate Yourself

  • Learn about suicide ideation, depression, and other mental health issues affecting teenagers to better understand what your teen is going through.

8. Encourage Healthy Habits

  • Promote regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and sufficient sleep to support your teen's overall well-being.
  • Encourage engagement in activities they enjoy and that promote a sense of accomplishment.

9. Be Patient

  • Recovery takes time. Be patient and understanding as your teen works through their challenges.

10. Emergency Plan

  • Develop a crisis plan with your teen and mental health professional outlining steps to take in case of escalating distress.

11. Medication Management

  • If prescribed, ensure your teen takes any medication as directed by a medical professional.

12. Regular Follow-up

  • Attend scheduled appointments and follow-up sessions with the mental health professional to track progress and make necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

13. Encourage Hope and Positivity

  • Reinforce the idea that things can improve with time, support, and treatment.

Remember, this checklist is not a substitute for professional advice. It's vital to involve mental health experts who can tailor their guidance to your specific situation. If you are concerned about your teen's safety, don't hesitate to seek immediate professional help.

Columbia Suicide Severity Risk Scale (C-SSRS)

The Columbia Suicide Severity Risk Scale (C-SSRS) is a series of simple questions to assess the severity and immediacy of suicide risk that anyone can ask. The scale, translated into more than 150 languages, has been implemented in many settings, including schools, hospitals, college campuses, defense forces, fire departments, the justice system, primary care, and scientific research.

The C-SSRS can be administered by anyone, anywhere. It is available as an app downloaded easily and accessed from a mobile phone. Here is a link to a PDF version. It includes the number to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (text 988).

Users of the tool ask people:

  1. Whether and when they have thought about suicide (ideation)?
  1. What actions they have taken — and when — to prepare for suicide?
  2. Whether and when they attempted suicide or began a suicide attempt that was either interrupted by another person or stopped of their own volition.
A male teen hugging his mom after a suicide scare. Is still in clear need of treatment here at Clearfork.
Understanding Risk Factors and Triggers

Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: Understanding Risk Factors and Triggers

The relationship between mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety, and suicide ideation in teenagers is complex and significant. Research consistently shows that adolescents grappling with these disorders are at a higher risk of developing thoughts of suicide or attempting it. Feelings of hopelessness, isolation, and the emotional turmoil accompanying these disorders can intensify such ideation.

Early diagnosis and treatment play a crucial role in preventing the escalation of suicide ideation. Timely identification of mental health issues provides an opportunity to intervene and provide effective therapies, counseling, and support. 

By addressing the underlying causes of depression and anxiety, professionals can equip teenagers with coping mechanisms and emotional resilience, thus reducing their vulnerability to suicidal thoughts.

Inadequate attention to mental health concerns can lead to devastating consequences. Schools, families, and communities must collaborate to create an environment that promotes open discussions about mental health. 

Ensuring easy access to mental health resources and support, along with fostering a nonjudgmental atmosphere, can encourage struggling teenagers to seek help.

Ultimately, understanding the intricate connection between mental health disorders and suicide ideation in teenagers underscores the urgency of early intervention. 

By prioritizing mental health care, society can make significant strides in preventing the tragic outcomes that arise from untreated mental health challenges.

A female teen looking out the window as she is being bullied online. She is in clear need of treatment here at Clearfork Academy.

Environmental and Situational Factors

Suicide ideation among teenagers is a deeply concerning issue, often influenced by a complex interplay of external factors. Family conflict, bullying, and substance abuse are some of the critical elements that can contribute to this distressing phenomenon. 

Adolescents facing familial discord may experience feelings of isolation and hopelessness, exacerbating their vulnerability. Bullying, whether in person or online, can lead to profound emotional pain and a distorted self-perception, pushing them towards the edge. 

Substance abuse, often a misguided coping mechanism, can further destabilize their mental state, hindering rational thinking and decision-making.

Creating a supportive and safe environment for teens is paramount in combating these factors. Open communication within families can foster understanding and emotional connection, mitigating the impact of conflicts. 

| Schools and communities must take a firm stance against bullying, implementing comprehensive anti-bullying policies and promoting empathy education. 

Furthermore, accessible mental health resources should be available to address the challenges teens face, offering them healthy coping mechanisms and professional guidance. Substance abuse prevention programs and early interventions are also vital.

By addressing these external factors and nurturing a nurturing, empathetic environment, we can significantly reduce the risk of suicide ideation among teenagers. It's our collective responsibility to provide the necessary support and resources, ensuring their emotional well-being. By fostering understanding, empathy, and early intervention, we can provide teenagers with the tools they need to navigate challenges, build resilience, and find hope in the face of adversity.

Female teen receiving impactful news that her friend committed suicide.
Impact of Suicide Ideation on Teens

Chapter 5

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Chapter 5: Impact of Suicide Ideation on Teens

Teenagers experiencing suicidal ideation go through an agonizing emotional journey that often remains hidden beneath their external façade. The weight of their internal struggles creates a whirlwind of emotional pain and turmoil, manifesting as feelings of hopelessness, isolation, and despair. 

They grapple with a complex web of emotions, ranging from intense sadness and anger to numbness and confusion, which can be overwhelming for their still-developing minds.

In this darkness, the need for empathy and understanding cannot be overstated. Teenagers need to feel heard and validated, to know that their feelings are real and acknowledged. 

| Friends, family, and peers must strive to create an open and non-judgmental environment, where adolescents can express themselves without fear of rejection. However, as much as the support of loved ones matters, it is important to recognize that professional help is indispensable.

Licensed therapists, counselors, and mental health experts possess the expertise to guide teenagers through their pain. Their specialized knowledge equips them to provide tailored strategies and coping mechanisms that can make a substantial difference. While empathy from loved ones is vital, it cannot replace the skill set of professionals who can offer evidence-based interventions such as those we have on our team at Clearfork Academy.

To address the emotional pain and turmoil experienced by teenagers with suicide ideation, a multi-faceted approach is imperative. Society must foster a culture of open dialogue around mental health, reducing stigma and promoting early intervention. 

This, coupled with genuine empathy, understanding, and the availability of professional support, can provide a lifeline to these vulnerable adolescents, helping them navigate their pain toward a path of healing and hope.

Effects on Academic Performance and Relationships

Suicide ideation casts a profound shadow over various aspects of a student's life, notably impacting their school attendance, academic performance, and interpersonal relationships. 

The internal struggles and emotional distress associated with thoughts of self-harm can lead to a stark decline in school attendance. As these thoughts intensify, students might find it increasingly difficult to muster the energy and will to engage in daily activities, including attending classes.

The toll on academic performance is equally significant. Concentration becomes elusive, making it arduous to focus on lessons and assignments. This often translates to a drop in grades, as suicide ideation diverts mental resources from learning and understanding. The once-vibrant pursuit of knowledge gives way to a sense of detachment and hopelessness.

Interpersonal relationships also bear the brunt of such ideation. The isolation and withdrawal that can accompany these thoughts chip away at social connections. Friends and family may struggle to comprehend the changes in behavior, leading to strained relationships. Moreover, the stigma surrounding mental health issues might prevent open conversations, deepening the sense of isolation.

Swift and compassionate intervention is crucial in preventing further decline. School counselors, mental health professionals, and peers can play pivotal roles in providing support and encouragement. 

By creating an environment where mental health concerns are destigmatized, schools can empower students to seek help without fear of judgment. Timely intervention not only aids in rekindling academic aspirations but also fosters healthier interpersonal relationships, paving the way for recovery and a brighter future.

Male teen is suffering from anxiety and this could lead to self-harm.
Preventive Strategies for Parents and Guardians

Chapter 6

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Chapter 6: Preventive Strategies for Parents and Guardians

Fostering open communication and active listening with teenagers who have suicide ideation is of paramount importance for their well-being. It’s very important to establish a safe and non-judgmental environment where teens feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions. 

Validating their feelings, regardless of their intensity, communicates empathy and understanding. By acknowledging their struggles, you show that you care and are willing to support them.

Active listening is a cornerstone in this process. Make an effort to truly hear what they're saying, without interrupting or imposing solutions. This empowers them to open up further and feel valued. Encourage them to share their experiences at their own pace, without forcing disclosure.

Avoid using dismissive language or downplaying their emotions. Instead, offer reassurance that their feelings are valid, even if you don't completely understand. Gently inquire about their thoughts and emotions while respecting their boundaries.

As you listen, remember that you're not a substitute for professional help. If the teenager is in immediate danger or their ideation is severe, involve mental health experts or crisis intervention resources promptly. Open communication should include a plan for seeking appropriate help and follow-up care.

Fostering open communication and active listening requires empathy, patience, and a commitment to creating a safe space. By validating their feelings and maintaining open dialogue, you can make a positive impact on a teenager's journey towards healing and recovery.

A mother offering support to her teenage daughter as she knows this can help prevent suicide.

Recognizing and Addressing Warning Signs

Common warning signs of suicide ideation in teens include:

Talking About Suicide: Teens who frequently talk about death, dying, or suicide should not be ignored. They might mention things like feeling hopeless, trapped, or being a burden to others.

Expressing Hopelessness: Feelings of hopelessness about the future, believing things will never get better, or feeling like there's no way out can indicate a serious emotional struggle.

Withdrawing from Friends and Family: If a teen suddenly isolates themselves from friends and family, it might be a sign that they're dealing with emotional distress.

Changes in Behavior: Significant changes in eating habits, sleeping patterns, energy levels, or engagement in previously enjoyed activities might be red flags.

Drastic Mood Swings: Extreme mood swings, sudden shifts from extreme sadness to seeming calmness, or any abrupt and noticeable changes in emotional state might be concerning.

Increased Recklessness: Engaging in risky or self-destructive behavior, such as substance abuse, dangerous driving, or unsafe sexual activities, can indicate underlying emotional struggles.

Giving Away Possessions: If a teen starts giving away their belongings or making statements about not needing things anymore, it could be a sign that they're preparing to say goodbye.

A male teen's performance at school is declining and his depression is taking over...next step is suicide. He is clearly in need of treatment.

Decline in School Performance: A sudden drop in academic performance, lack of interest in school, or avoiding school altogether might be indicative of emotional distress.

Loss of Interest: Teens struggling with suicidal thoughts often lose interest in hobbies, sports, social activities, and other things they previously enjoyed.

Sudden Improvement: Paradoxically, sometimes a sudden improvement in mood after a period of deep depression might indicate that the individual has made a decision to end their life and feels relieved at the prospect.

Online Warning Signs: Posts on social media or online platforms that express feelings of despair, isolation, or suicidal thoughts should be taken seriously.

Self-Harm: Engaging in self-harming behaviors, such as cutting or burning, can be an indicator of severe emotional distress and potential suicidal ideation.

It's important to remember that these signs can vary from person to person, and not everyone who displays them is experiencing suicidal thoughts. However, if you're concerned about a teenager's well-being, it's best to reach out for professional help. If you believe someone is in immediate danger, do not leave them alone and contact emergency services or a mental health crisis hotline.

Navigating the realm of suicidal thoughts and ideation in teenagers requires unwavering empathy and profound compassion. Adolescence is a tumultuous time, and feelings of despair can be overwhelming. Start by creating a safe space for them to express their emotions without judgment. Listen actively and let them know they're not alone in their struggles.

Encourage open communication about their feelings and experiences. Help them understand that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It's crucial to involve mental health professionals at this point. Trained therapists can conduct a comprehensive assessment to determine the severity of the situation and develop a tailored treatment plan.

Professional intervention often encompasses various therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or psychotherapy, to address underlying issues. In severe cases, psychiatrists might prescribe medication as part of the treatment plan.

Family involvement is vital in this journey. Collaborate with parents or guardians to provide a robust support system. Educate them about the signs, coping strategies, and ways to maintain a safe environment for teenagers.

Remember, every teen is unique, and their struggles are deeply personal. Your unwavering support, combined with professional expertise, can help guide them through the darkness towards a path of healing and hope.

Seeking Professional Help

Chapter 7

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Chapter 7: Seeking Professional Help

Involving mental health professionals, therapists, and counselors in the treatment of suicide ideation in teens is of paramount importance, as it addresses a critical aspect of adolescent well-being. 

Adolescence is a time of profound emotional and psychological development, often characterized by heightened vulnerability and susceptibility to mental health challenges. Suicide ideation, a distressing precursor to potential self-harm, demands specialized intervention to ensure the safety and recovery of at-risk teens.

Mental health professionals possess the expertise to assess the severity of suicidal thoughts, identify underlying causes, and tailor appropriate interventions. Therapists and counselors, such as those at Clearfork Academy, offer a confidential and supportive environment where teenagers can express their feelings openly without judgment. Through evidence-based therapeutic techniques, they equip teens with coping strategies, emotional regulation skills, and a greater understanding of their emotions.

| Collaboration between mental health experts and other stakeholders, such as parents, teachers, and healthcare providers, fosters a comprehensive support network for struggling teenagers. 

Additionally, early intervention can prevent the escalation of suicidal thoughts into actions. Moreover, mental health professionals provide essential education on recognizing warning signs, de-stigmatizing mental health, and creating a safe environment for open dialogue.

The involvement of mental health professionals, therapists, and counselors in treating suicide ideation in teens is an investment in their holistic well-being. By addressing the intricate psychological dimensions of adolescence, these experts play a pivotal role in guiding vulnerable individuals toward recovery, hope, and a brighter future.

Resources and Further Reading

Chapter 8

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Chapter 8: Resources and Further Reading

Here are some steps you can consider:

Take It Seriously: Any mention of suicide should be taken seriously. Even if you're not sure about the severity of their feelings, it's better to err on the side of caution.

Listen and Communicate: Create a safe and non-judgmental environment for the teenagers to express their feelings. Encourage open communication and let them know you're there to listen and support them.

Don't Keep It a Secret: While it's important to respect their privacy, you should involve other responsible adults, such as the other parent, a school counselor, or a mental health professional.

Seek Professional Help: Connect with mental health professionals who specialize in working with teenagers. Therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists can help assess the situation and provide appropriate treatment options.

Helplines: In urgent situations, consider contacting a helpline. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You can also text "HOME" to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Educate Yourself: Learn about the warning signs of suicide and mental health struggles in teenagers. Understanding the signs can help you intervene early.

Safety Planning: Work with a mental health professional to create a safety plan. This plan can outline steps to take when the teenager feels overwhelmed or has thoughts of self-harm.

Remove Access to Means: If there are any means of self-harm (like medications, firearms, etc.) in the household, consider safely removing them while still respecting the teenager's privacy.

Encourage Healthy Habits: Support the teenager in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, and proper sleep.

Stay Involved: Stay actively involved in their life, but also respect their boundaries. Encourage them to engage in activities they enjoy and spend time with friends and family.

Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Facts About Suicide.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Suicidal Ideation and Behaviors Among High School Students — Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 2019.

JAMA. Journal of American Medical Association. Temporal Trends in Suicidal Ideation and Attempts Among US Adolescents by Sex and Race/Ethnicity, 1991-2019.

 Columbia Lighthouse Project. Columbia Suicide Risk Protocol. 

Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) if you or someone you know needs help.

Crisis Text Line: Text "HOME" to 741741 for free, confidential support.

TeenLine: A helpline specifically for teenagers. Call 310-855-4673 or text TEEN to 839863.

Your Local Mental Health Services: Reach out to local mental health organizations, clinics, or hospitals for resources in your area.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP): Provides resources and support for individuals and families dealing with suicide. Visit their website for information.

Remember, seeking professional help is essential in such situations. Your primary goal is the safety and well-being of the teenager.

Our admissions team is patiently waiting for your call; you're not alone.

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