Suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideation are, unfortunately, becoming common in our world today. But thankfully, it’s not something any of us have to go through alone with the resources available to us. Today’s blog is all about suicidal ideation – what it is, how to treat it, and more. We hope this blog sheds light and hope, no matter who you’re reading it for.
What Is Suicidal Ideation?
Imagine feeling overwhelmed and burdened by thoughts of ending your own life. This is what suicidal ideation is – when a person experiences persistent and intrusive thoughts about self-harm or suicide. It’s important to understand that suicidal ideation is not a choice or a reflection of weakness. Instead, it’s a sign of the immense pain and despair that someone may be going through.
Now, I want you to understand that suicidal ideation can manifest in different forms, ranging from fleeting thoughts to detailed plans. These thoughts can be distressing and consuming, making it difficult to find relief. It’s crucial to remember that experiencing suicidal ideation does not mean that someone will act on those thoughts. However, it should never be dismissed or ignored.
When it comes to assessing suicidal ideation, it’s important to approach the situation with the utmost care and sensitivity. Here are some steps and considerations to help assess suicidal ideation:
- Active Listening: Create a safe and non-judgmental space for the individual to express their thoughts and emotions openly. Listen attentively and empathetically, allowing them to share their experiences.
- Ask Direct Questions: While it may feel uncomfortable, asking direct questions about suicidal thoughts can provide valuable insights. Ask gently and without judgment, allowing the person to share their feelings honestly. For example, you can ask, “Are you currently having thoughts of harming yourself?” or “Have you thought about suicide as a way to end your pain?”
- Examine the Intensity and Frequency: Understand the intensity and frequency of their thoughts. Inquire about how often they occur, how long they last, and whether the intensity has increased over time. This information can help gauge the severity of the situation.
- Identify Risk Factors and Warning Signs: Discuss any risk factors that may contribute to their suicidal ideation. These might include a history of mental health issues, previous suicide attempts, substance abuse, or a recent traumatic experience. Additionally, look for warning signs such as withdrawal from loved ones, giving away possessions, or expressing feelings of hopelessness.
- Professional Assessment: Encourage the individual to seek help from a mental health professional who can thoroughly assess the situation. Mental health professionals are trained to ask appropriate questions, evaluate risk, and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
As great as it is for you to help your friend, you’ll want to get the professionals involved, as they can provide the necessary support and guidance throughout the assessment process.
Immediate professional intervention should be sought if there is an immediate risk of harm or if your friend has a clear plan and intent to die by suicide.
Treatments for Suicidal Ideation
Psychotherapy and Counseling
First, encourage them to seek professional help like psychotherapy or counseling. It can make a world of difference. In these therapy sessions, a trained mental health professional will be there for your friend, providing a caring and non-judgmental space to talk about their emotions and thoughts. They offer guidance and help them process what they’re going through.
One effective therapy for suicidal thoughts is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It helps them identify negative thoughts and behaviors and replace them with more positive and realistic ones. Encourage them to try it, as it can teach them coping skills and reduce their urges to harm themselves.
Another helpful therapy approach is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This focuses on teaching your friend how to manage their emotions, handle stress in healthier ways, and communicate effectively. They may attend group therapy sessions and work on building a support network.
Encourage your friend to create a safety plan with their therapist. It’s about identifying people they trust, like family or friends, who can provide support during tough times. Knowing who they can reach out to when they feel overwhelmed can be incredibly comforting. They can also work on strategies to reduce risks, such as limiting access to harmful means.
Remember, you can support your friend by simply being there for them. Listen to them attentively, and let them express their emotions without judgment. Offer a shoulder to lean on and be a source of comfort. Help them find resources, such as helplines or support groups, to offer additional guidance and understanding.
Remind them that it’s okay to ask for help and that seeking assistance is a courageous step. Encourage them to take things one day at a time and reassure them that there are people who care about their well-being.
In addition to psychotherapy, medication can play a significant role in treating suicidal thoughts. It’s important to note that a qualified healthcare professional, like a psychiatrist or primary care doctor, will carefully evaluate your friend’s situation and determine the best course of action. Medication is not a one-size-fits-all approach, so personalized care is essential.
Antidepressant medications are commonly used to help manage suicidal ideation. They work by balancing certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, which can influence mood and emotions.
By stabilizing these chemicals, these medications can help reduce feelings of hopelessness and despair. However, it’s crucial to remember that medication takes time to take effect, and finding the right one may require some trial and error.
Your friend needs regular follow-ups with their healthcare provider to monitor their progress and make any necessary adjustments to their medication. Patience is key during this process, as it can take several weeks or even months to find the right medication and dosage that works best for them.
Encourage your friend to communicate openly with their healthcare provider about any concerns or side effects they may be experiencing. Adjusting the dosage or trying a different medication can help alleviate these issues. Regular communication ensures the treatment plan is tailored to your friend’s needs.
While medications can be highly effective, they work best when combined with other forms of treatment, such as therapy. Encourage your friend to continue attending therapy sessions and maintain an open line of communication with their therapist. Therapy and medication can provide a comprehensive approach to addressing suicidal thoughts and promoting overall mental well-being.
Alternative and Complementary Treatments
We’re glad you’re interested in learning about alternative and complementary therapies that can provide additional support for someone dealing with suicidal ideation. Let’s explore some of these options together!
- Mindfulness and Meditation: Practices like mindfulness and meditation can help your friend cultivate a sense of calm, reduce stress, and develop a greater awareness of their thoughts and emotions. Encourage them to try meditation apps or guided meditation videos to get started. These techniques can enhance overall well-being and provide a sense of grounding during difficult moments.
- Yoga: Yoga combines physical movement, breathwork, and mindfulness, providing both physical and mental benefits. It can help your friend release tension, improve flexibility, and promote relaxation. Many yoga classes also incorporate mindfulness practices, creating a holistic approach to well-being.
- Exercise: Regular physical exercise has been shown to impact mental health positively. Encourage your friend to engage in activities they enjoy, such as walking, jogging, cycling, or dancing. Exercise helps release endorphins, our brain’s feel-good chemicals, and can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Art Therapy: Engaging in creative activities, such as painting, drawing, or writing, can be a healing outlet for emotions. Art therapy can offer a non-verbal way to express feelings, process emotions, and find a sense of self-expression. Suggest your friend explore art therapy resources or start a journal to document their thoughts and emotions.
- Support Groups: Encourage your friend to join support groups specifically focused on mental health and suicide prevention. Being in a supportive community with others who understand their experiences can provide validation, empathy, and a sense of belonging. Support groups can be in-person or online, offering a safe space to share and learn from others who have gone through similar struggles.
- TMS Therapy: Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a complementary treatment that can help with suicidal thoughts. There’s so much to it that we’re dedicating an entire section to it.
How TMS Therapy Can Help
Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS therapy, is a non-invasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate specific areas of the brain. Research studies have shown that TMS therapy can reduce suicidal thoughts in individuals.
There was even a study that compared individuals who received TMS therapy to those who didn’t, and it found that the people who received TMS had a significant decrease in their suicidal thoughts. That can be life changing.
The interesting thing about TMS therapy is that it can bring about structural and physiological changes in the brain, particularly in the regions involved in regulating mood.
Targeting these areas can help alleviate the intensity of suicidal ideation. Plus, since TMS is non-invasive, it’s considered a safer alternative to more invasive procedures. That’s definitely a great aspect of this treatment!
TMS therapy involves placing magnetic coils on the scalp, which generate magnetic fields that penetrate the skull and induce small electrical currents in specific regions of the brain. These electrical currents are believed to help normalize the activity of the targeted brain regions and improve symptoms of various mental health and neurological conditions.
During a TMS session, the magnetic coils are placed on the patient’s scalp, typically near the forehead. The coils deliver short bursts of magnetic pulses, which generate small electrical currents that stimulate the underlying brain regions.
The specific parameters of the stimulation, such as the intensity and frequency of the pulses, are determined by the healthcare professional and tailored to the individual’s needs. The TMS provider will work directly with your friend to ensure they have the best possible experience.
Building a Support System
Often, when it comes to suicidal ideation, a combination of treatment options will work best for your friend. Psychotherapy, medication, and meditation help a lot of individuals. Adding in TMS therapy can also make a world of difference.
As we mentioned, building a support system can also help. Having a support system can make a world of difference for your friend. They need emotional support, someone who will listen and offer encouragement. Being there for them, lending a compassionate ear, and letting them know you care can bring comfort and hope.
Practical support is equally important. Help your friend with everyday tasks or assist them in navigating the healthcare system. Supporting them in finding mental health resources, attending therapy sessions, or connecting with the right professionals can be immensely helpful.
One significant benefit of a support system is combating feelings of isolation. Your friend might feel disconnected and lonely, so being part of their support system can help bridge that gap. Encourage social interaction, engage in activities together, and empower them to find purpose and meaning in their life.
Accountability is vital, too. As part of your friend’s support system, gently remind them to take their medication, attend therapy appointments, and seek help when they’re struggling. Having someone who looks out for their well-being can be a powerful motivator in their recovery journey.
Above all, remind your friend that you’re here for them. Let them know that you’re there to provide support, compassion, and understanding. Reassure them that it’s okay to lean on others during tough times, and you’ll be right there by their side.
Importance of Continuing Care
It’s essential that your friend continues seeking help and doesn’t stop their treatment. Recovery is a journey, and staying the course is important, even when things are tough. So, let’s talk about why it’s crucial for your friend to keep going.
Firstly, stopping treatment prematurely can worsen things and put your friend’s mental health at risk. Discontinuing medication or therapy abruptly can lead to negative consequences such as worsening symptoms, increased depression, or worsening mood swings. This, in turn, can lead to a sense of hopelessness, increased risk of self-harm, or suicidal ideation.
Secondly, treatment is a process that takes time to achieve its full effects. Mental health issues don’t disappear overnight; the healing process can be long and challenging. You need to remind your friend they are making progress, even if they don’t see it themselves. Encourage them to focus on small steps, day by day, rather than an overnight miracle cure.
Thirdly, a treatment plan usually targets the symptoms and the underlying causes of their mental health issues. Treatment may involve counseling, medication, or combination therapy, which supports mental wellness differently. Discontinuing treatment can thwart progress and lead to a greater probability of symptoms returning or escalating.
Lastly, keeping up with treatment can motivate them to continue the work on themselves and their mental health.
Your friend may have days when they feel hopeless and like giving up, but continuing treatment can help them stay committed to their recovery journey. Moreover, treatment can help your friend learn the necessary coping skills, behaviors, and thought patterns to help them progress toward a happy and fulfilling life.
TMS Therapy With Brain Health Center
As we discussed, TMS therapy can help with suicide ideation. It’s a powerful tool that complements psychotherapy, medication, and the other tools mentioned in this blog. As you support your friend, be sure to tell them about TMS therapy with Brain Health Center. They’re located in St. George, Utah.
Brain Health Center offers free TMS therapy for people like your friend battling suicidal thoughts. Call Brain Health Center at 435.260.5123, or visit our website for more information. Suicide is real, but you don’t have to fight it alone!