Suicide isn’t something anyone likes to talk about. Yet it is a serious and devastating occurrence in America and throughout the world. Whether the person having these thoughts of self-harm and ending it all is you, or a loved one, family member, friend, or co-worker, suicidal ideation and behavior are a desperate cry for help. Often, therapy from a professional suicidal therapist can make a profound difference in relieving suicidal thoughts.
How Common are Suicidal Thoughts?
Individuals with psychiatric disorders, particularly bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse are at higher risk of suicide. So, too, are those with anxiety disorders, especially severe anxiety. Veterans and military personnel, members of the LGBTQ community, and white men ages 44-64 and 85 and older are also more impacted by suicide.
A fact sheet from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention shows that 12 million Americans had suicidal thoughts, and about 1.4 million tried to carry out those suicidal ideations. Among those whose death resulted from suicide, men were 3.63 times more likely than women to end their lives. Women, however, attempted suicide 1.66 times more than men. Tragically, in 90 percent of the suicide deaths, the individuals had a diagnosable mental health disorder or condition.
Not a One-Size-Fits-All Approach
When considering therapies that can relieve suicidal thoughts, it’s important to recognize that there’s no single approach that’s universally effective. Different treatments have different efficacy for different disorders. Someone with treatment-resistant depression who’s experiencing chronic suicidal thoughts may benefit more from certain types of suicidal therapy than someone who’s thought about suicide after losing a loved one or feels hopeless following a lengthy illness or terminal diagnosis.
Understanding the Underlying Cause of Suicidal Thoughts
Where do suicidal thoughts come from? It’s important to recognize that the origin of suicidal thoughts is typically rooted in another condition.
- Instead of a standalone prompt springing from nothing, thoughts of self-harm and suicide are typically a symptom of an underlying treatable mental health issue.
- Other causes of suicidal thoughts include an underlying medical condition that may or may not yet be diagnosed.
- Misuse of drugs and alcohol can lead to thoughts about suicide and feeling suicidal.
- Another flashpoint for suicidal thinking stems from the adverse effects of some medications.
5 Therapies That Can be Used to Treat Suicidal Thoughts
Anyone who is going through a time when they’re experiencing suicidal thoughts can benefit from specific suicidal therapy. This is especially important for those who are dealing with chronic suicidal thoughts, which never seem to go away.
Suicide counselors can help the individual recognize when, where, how, and why they start thinking about suicide. Suicidal therapy can then focus on providing the individual experiencing suicidal thoughts with suicide-specific coping techniques and skills. The goal is to prevent suicidal behaviors. Another common goal of the suicidal therapist is to motivate the individual so that they’re better equipped to deal with their suicidal impulses and reduce the risk of suicide.
Research into suicide-specific treatments to help reduce suicidal thoughts reveals some effective therapies that have been both studied in controlled clinical trials and used in psychiatric and mental health care settings.
1. Cognitive Therapy for Suicide Prevention
A suicide-specific form of psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy for suicide prevention (CT-SP) has shown impressive results in reducing suicidal thoughts and repeat suicide attempts, reducing depressive symptoms, and increasing hope. A primary treatment focus is reducing suicide risk factors and increasing coping skills. Central to the therapy is the tenet that the individual will continue to have stressors and problems, but armed with effective coping skills, they’ll no longer be automatically triggered to suicidal behavior.
This form of suicidal therapy includes a strategy for relapse prevention and making use of a hope kit to help prevent subsequent suicidal behavior.
2. Dialectical Behavior Therapy
For someone experiencing chronic suicidal thoughts, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an effective therapy to reduce suicidal attempts and ideation. Individuals suffering from a borderline personality disorder, for example, not only need therapy for suicidal ideation that can help ensure their safety, but they also need to learn new skills and access resources that can lessen the fixation with suicide.
Chronic suicidality isn’t something that a person can tell themselves to stop thinking about. It’s become a habit, a deeply ingrained fallback that they revert to. While someone can’t control what they think, they can learn how to better respond to the thoughts that come to them. That’s where DBT can help. The suicidal therapist and other suicide counselors provide the therapy. This type of therapy has been described as CBT that’s combined with Zen Buddhist principles.
Rather than fixate on suicidal thoughts, with DBT suicidal therapy the person can master detachment that helps them look at the thoughts from afar with a kind of curiosity. It’s like standing beside it and looking without being involved in the thought. They’re better able to objectively say that’s not them talking, it’s their depression, PTSD, stress, or other condition that’s speaking.
Key aspects of DBT suicidal therapy are skills training in group and individual psychotherapy, skills strengthening and addressing motivational barriers, and skills application in daily life in concert with regular phone calls to the suicidal therapist.
3. Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality
Called CAMS for short, collaborative assessment and management of suicidality is a suicide-specific intervention that makes use of a range of clinical techniques and theoretical orientations. CAMS helps in suicidal therapy to understand the individual’s suicidality. This leads to the suicidal therapist designing a treatment plan that’s specific to suicide. The emphasis is on identifying and treating suicidal drivers and developing a stabilization plan for outpatient use.
Neurotherapy is an innovative treatment approach for people with conditions that include depression, substance abuse, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, and other mental health disorders. Neurostimulation therapies include biofeedback, vibrational, and electrical stimulation approaches that help in the brain’s neural repair process. They may also work to help reduce symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, withdrawal, cravings, and difficulties with attention and memory, among others.
Specific neurostimulation therapies, some of which have been studied for their therapeutic value and effectiveness in reducing suicidal thoughts include:
- Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS)
- Transcranial Alternate Current Stimulation (tACS)
- Transcranial Advanced Pink Noise Stimulation (tAPNS)
- Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (pEMF)
Research into the effectiveness of various seizure therapies and non-invasive brain stimulation techniques finds that some are more effective than others in reducing suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Researchers looked at studies of these therapies as a key intervention for suicidality. Seizure therapies included electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and magnetic seizure therapy (MST). Among the non-invasive brain stimulation techniques were transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), and cranial electrostimulation (CES).
Researchers suggested that tDCS in combination with sertraline or other pharmacotherapy might be the best suicidal therapy for those with depression. They support the recommendation of using ECT for acute suicidal ideation. Overall, they conclude that combination therapy is a better approach to achieving a sustained and quicker reduction in suicide.
5. Yoga, Meditation, Mindfulness, Physical Activity
Although not a primary intervention for reducing suicidal thoughts, physical activity, yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are proven therapies that help individuals with depression and other mental health disorders cope with recurring or chronic suicidal ideation and behaviors. As such, these therapies should be utilized as adjunctive approaches, with counseling and other psychiatric modalities the main interventions.
Having Suicidal Thoughts?
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, have recently thought about suicide, talked about it, or if you are currently thinking about suicide, this isn’t an issue to tackle on your own. Please seek immediate help by calling 911, a local emergency phone number or crisis hotline, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255).
If the situation isn’t imminent, your doctor can provide a referral to professional suicidal therapy or counseling for suicidal thoughts. Talk with a spiritual advisor or your minister about what you’re feeling. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for support from loved ones and close friends before, during, and after receiving suicidal therapy. Telling a therapist about suicidal thoughts may not be easy, but it is a vital first step in healing.
At FHE Health, we have suicide counselors that can help you deal with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. Counseling for suicidal thoughts is an important part of treatment for depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, substance abuse, eating disorders, and schizophrenia. Suicide is preventable. Contact FHE Health to get help today.