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Suicidal Ideation Defined

Mental Health Terms Used in Treating Troubled Teens


Definition: Suicidal ideation describes thoughts, fantasies, ideas or images related to committing suicide. This term is also sometimes referred to as suicidal thinking. The word ideation is defined as: forming or entertaining ideas.

For teens, thoughts of suicide can range from fleeting thoughts of suicide to making actual plans to end their life. For this reason, mental health professionals discuss suicidal ideation in terms of being either passive or active. Passive ideation about suicide includes experiencing vague ideas about committing suicide. Suicide is viewed as a possible way to end their pain, but usually no action is taken.

Active suicidal ideation is when a teen experiences persistent thoughts of suicide and continues to feel hopeless. When the ideation is active, a teen begins to take steps to carry out a suicide attempt. 

Suicidal ideation in teens is often caused by untreated depression or drug abuseand always needs to be taken seriously.

An example of suicidal ideation:

Ivana, age 15, feels very sad when her best friend moves away and she experiences a deep sense of loneliness and insecurity. One night she finds herself thinking about suicide as a way to end the painful feelings she is having. She pictures herself taking a bottle of pills and drifting into a deep sleep she will not wake up from. When she wakes up the next day her suicidal ideation has changed, she knows it’s an option but is feeling better and decides to call a friend she hasn’t spoken to in awhile.

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