Young and Not Afraid to Die

While death by suicide is still a relatively rare event, we as a nation are seeing an increase in these deaths over time, especially in our adolescent and teenage groups. What can be done with treatment options and choosing the right therapist to help with suicide prevention?

Did you know?

In 2018 Colorado had a total of 92 suicide deaths between the ages of 10 and 19? 24 of those deaths occurred in El Paso county. While we have seen a fluctuation in the numbers over the years, it is still concerning that it is happening at all here in our home of Colorado Springs.

When it comes to helping teens and adolescents with suicidal tendencies, many therapists are unfortunately ill-equipped. Many counselors have not been properly trained in the assessment and management of the accompanying symptoms. Additionally, many clinicians have not been trained in evidence-based treatments for suicide prevention. Many clinicians fall into the old way of thinking about suicidal tendencies, which is to treat the accompanying disorder whether it’s the depression, the trauma, or some other disorder, with the hopes that the suicidal tendencies will also resolve. However, current research has suggested that suicidal tendencies are distinct in and of themselves, thus should be treated as such.

We also live in a litigious culture, and honestly, many counselors and therapists fear being sued by the family should a suicide occur. Consequently, we see adolescents and teens who repeatedly cycle through the system where they become suicidal, are hospitalized and stabilized, and go back into the community, rinse, and repeat. Unfortunately, such individuals rarely get the help they need and deserve.

Suicide Treatment Options

Treatment options for suicide prevention are somewhat lacking, however there are some options that have shown to be effective and have the research to back it up. These treatments include:

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Suicide Prevention
  • Brief Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Suicide Prevention

Dialectical Behavior Therapy finds its roots in cognitive behavioral therapy, a long-established treatment modality which is heavily supported by research for many different disorders. Dialectical Behavior Therapy is very skills based and provides individuals with tools in four distinct areas: mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Suicide Prevention is based off the highly researched cognitive behavioral treatment model. The intervention is based on the theory that emotions are influenced by how we behave and how we think, or our beliefs, about a situation. The only difference being that treatment is specifically targeted for individuals that struggle with suicidal tendencies and is more inclusive of family.

Brief Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Suicide Prevention is a newly formulated treatment with the main intervention averaging about 12 sessions. Preliminary research shows promise. The treatment is aimed at helping individuals understand the ‘suicide mode’ that they can get into and incorporates both DBT and CBT skills to address problematic behaviors and suicide specific thinking tendencies that often put individuals at risk for suicide.

The good news is that there are treatments that work. Sometimes treatments targeting problematic suicidal behaviors and thoughts can be enough, and sometimes it can ease up some of crisis, so that the teen can then move towards working on underlying issues that may put them at risk. The bad news is that many therapists are not trained or knowledgeable in how to target suicidal tendencies directly.

Finding the Right Therapist

As a parent, it is important to ask questions about the therapist’s approach. First, you’ll want to make sure that the clinician for your teen is a licensed professional. In the state of Colorado, until recently, clinicians did not need to be licensed to provide therapeutic services. Other good questions to ask when researching for a therapist for your teen are:

  • What is their treatment approach?
  • Do they consider themselves to be a specialized in the suicide prevention intervention?
  • Do they generally work with teens?

We’re Here to Help

If you have an adolescent or teen struggling with suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and/or has a history of previous attempts, we hope that this article has given you some direction on what to ask a counselor or therapist if you are seeking help for your loved one in Colorado Springs. If you are still feeling stuck or would like a free 15 minute phone consultation, we would be happy to hear about what is happening and either help or direct you to the right person. We are psychologists, counselors, and therapists who specialize in helping adolescents, teens, and adults struggling with suicidal tendencies. Take the next step and contact us.