Signs & Symptoms of Suicidal Ideation in Adolescents

Understanding Suicidal Ideation

Learn about suicidal ideation

Suicidal ideation is the clinical term for the desire, thoughts, or imaginings one has of ending their own life. Suicidal ideation can vary among individuals, ranging from thinking about ending one’s life to having a detailed plan to do so. While currently not considered a mental health disorder, suicidal ideation may be a symptom of a mental health disorder.

Whether or not it is a result of a mental health condition, suicidal ideation can gravely impact one’s life and well-being. Suicidal ideation consumes thoughts, controls emotions, and creates anguish. The struggle with suicidal ideation can be all-encompassing, as suicidal thoughts take up mental space and tax physical energy. Furthermore, those who struggle with suicidal ideation are at further risk for other mental health difficulties and psychological trauma. Seeking help for suicidal ideation can reduce the likelihood that a person will suffer from various short- and long-term effects. Most importantly, getting the right type and level of help can keep a person safe and decrease the risk that their suicidal thoughts will turn into actions.

Important note: If you fear that you or someone you care about is in imminent danger of suicide, call 911 or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 immediately.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation

Suicidal ideation can be a deeply private experience. Often, the only person able to recognize symptoms of suicidal ideation is the very person having the thoughts. But other than mental symptoms, there are certain behavioral and physical symptoms that you as a parent can watch out for. Please note that suicidal ideation will look different for each person, so the following is not an extensive list of symptoms of suicidal ideation. Nevertheless, please watch out for the following signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Loss or increase of appetite
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Frequently talks about death or dying
  • Gives away personal items of great value
  • No longer participates in the extracurricular activities and hobbies they once loved
  • Self-loathing comments
  • Restlessness
  • Mood swings
  • Self-harm

Physical symptoms:

  • Weight loss or gain
  • Hypersomnia or insomnia
  • Tears
  • Fatigue

Mental symptoms:

  • Pervasive thoughts of death or dying
  • Imagining what the world would be like without them
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Low self-esteem
  • Inability to focus
  • Forgetfulness


Effects of suicidal ideation

Short-Term Effects

Suicidal ideation is a serious experience. Adolescents who struggle with suicidal ideation need help. Of course, the greatest risk of not pursuing treatment for suicidal ideation is that the individual may act on their thoughts. In addition to this outcome, there are certain short-term effects, or consequences, of not seeking treatment for suicidal ideation. No matter the severity, all effects of untreated suicidal ideation should be noted and should initiate the pursuit of treatment.

Possible short-term effects of suicidal ideation, which can occur shortly after an adolescent begins to struggle with thoughts of suicide, include the following:

  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Social withdrawal
  • Strained relationships with family and friends
  • Pervasive feelings of hopelessness
  • Drug or alcohol experimentation
  • Self-harm
  • Onset or worsening of mental health conditions

Long-Term Effects

The longer an individual waits to seek treatment for suicidal ideation, the greater the risk of suicide attempts. Other negative outcomes can also result from chronic untreated suicidal ideation. The following is a list of possible long-term effects of untreated suicidal ideation:

  • Academic failure
  • Job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Ruined interpersonal relationships
  • Isolation
  • Financial difficulties
  • Addiction
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal behaviors and attempts
  • Suicide

Please note that all short- and long-term effects of suicidal ideation are significant and merit professional help. Any adolescent who is having thoughts of suicide should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare provider immediately. At the onset of any of the above signs, symptoms, and effects of suicidal ideation, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Effective, professional care can dramatically decrease the risk of a myriad of short- and long-term effects.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Suicidal ideation and co-occurring disorders

As mentioned above, suicidal ideation may or may not be a symptom of a mental health disorder. Sometimes, people experience suicidal ideation as a result of a mental health condition. Others, however, develop a mental health condition during or after the onset of suicidal thoughts.

If your child is experiencing any form of suicidal thoughts, it’s important that they seek treatment to manage any possible co-occurring mental health conditions. The following mental health disorders are linked to thoughts of suicide:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Suicidal ideation can be a frightening thing to both experience and observe firsthand in the life of your loved one. Suicidal thoughts are mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing. Those who suffer from suicidal ideation may feel that hope has been long forgotten, that healing is impossible.

But suicidal ideation is treatable. At Southstone Behavioral Health in South Boston, VA, adolescents and teens who suffer from suicidal thoughts can get the help they need to achieve improved mental health.