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Outpatient Treatment for Suicidal Ideation and Self-Harm

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the US. It claims nearly 44,000 lives annually. Still, it may be challenging to understand suicide or know what to do if someone is thinking about it, especially if you’ve never personally been affected by it before.

Treatment at a suicide treatment center is essential to getting help and feeling better, regardless of whether you experience suicidal ideation or self-harm. Inpatient treatment offers relief for those in a crisis, while outpatient treatment is helpful for those who aren’t in an emergency situation. 

If you or a loved one lives with mental illness, it’s vital to establish which treatment is best and prevent ideation or harm from escalating.

Understanding Suicidal Ideation and Self-Harm

Suicidal ideation occurs when someone actively and consistently imagines methods to end their life. The idea is not a passing, intrusive thought. It is a persistent pattern of thinking often stemming from underlying mental illness due to depression, anxiety, traumatic experiences, or other mental health concerns.

Signs of suicidal ideation may include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Disruption in sleep or eating habits
  • Poor hygiene
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Elevated irritability or agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Reckless behavior
  • Social isolation
  • Substance use
  • Self-injury

Self-harm or self-injury involves intentional damage to one’s body. The harm can be carried out in various ways, most often via cutting, although burns, scratching, and self-hitting are other recognizable methods. 

Common signs of self-harming behavior include:

  • Scars
  • Excessive wounds (i.e., burns, scratches, bruises, scars)
  • Long sleeves or pants to mask the harm
  • Claims of accidental injury
  • Interpersonal relationship difficulty
  • Mood swings
  • Reckless behavior
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness

The Relationship Between Suicidal Ideation and Self-Harm

Both suicidal ideation and self-harm share similar signs, symptoms, and causes. Both indicate underlying concerns such as ongoing mental illnesses like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety. Self-harm lacks suicidal intent, yet long-term struggles often coincide with disorders that result in suicidal ideation.

Dr. Julie D. Eberwein, Executive Director at Integrative Life Center, said, “Different functions and motivations underlie self-harm and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

“There can be different factors or motivations related to suicidal behavior and self-harm, but the one defining feature of the suicide attempt is at least some desire to die,” she stated. 

Signs That It’s Time to Seek Treatment

Regardless of the cause, suicidal ideation and self-harm aren’t something to ignore. If you or a loved one are showing signs of either of these issues, it’s critical to discuss and get emergency help immediately.

Seek treatment when a person is:

  • Expressing Hopelessness. Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness are signs that the person needs help. These aren’t feelings you should have regularly and suggest something bigger is going on.
  • Withdrawal from Social Connections. When people withdraw from their usual social connections and activities, it might mean they’re feeling overwhelmed by stress or emotional pain. It’s likely an indication that something’s wrong.
  • Severe Emotional Distress. If you feel like your emotions are out of control or you’re having thoughts about suicide, seek help immediately.
  • Irregular Sleep Patterns. When someone experiences changes in sleep patterns (sleeping more or less than usual), it’s a sign that something is going on with their mental health. Changes in sleep patterns may be due to anxiety disorders or depression.

“Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should seek mental health care immediately,” Julie said. “If there is an imminent risk of harm, contact mobile crisis services or the local emergency room.”

Treatments Options for People in Need

Many treatment options exist for people in severe distress who are considering suicide or harming themselves. Emergency care is necessary if the person is in danger. If the person isn’t in immediate danger, seeking treatment is a good idea.

Mental health treatments for suicidal ideation and self-harm include:

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). This form of talk therapy helps people with a variety of disorders, including those related to trauma, depression, and anxiety.
  • Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT). This family therapy focuses on improving the parent/child relationship and other relationships in the family. 
  • Multisystemic Therapy-Psychiatric (MST-Psych). This therapy helps patients with addiction or mental health issues by addressing those issues in multiple settings at once, including school or work environments.
  • Integrated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (I-CBT). This therapy focuses on changing thought patterns behind behaviors to help people manage anxiety disorders and depression symptoms. It can also be helpful for those with substance use issues.
  • Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). A type of psychotherapy that helps alter thought patterns to treat PTSD in adults who have experienced trauma.

Is Outpatient Treatment the Right Fit?

Seeking a suicide treatment center should include some reflection on the type of treatment you or a loved one needs. Inpatient and outpatient treatments offer a variety of benefits.

“​​Identifying and working with a qualified outpatient therapist is the best treatment option when there is little or no risk of imminent harm to self and no previous suicide attempts,” Julie stated. “The therapist can further assess the risk level and determine if more intensive services are indicated. If a higher level of care is necessary, the therapist can work with the individual to recommend the most beneficial programming.” 

When considering an outpatient program, make sure the person agrees that they need help and are willing to work toward recovery. Treatment only works when the person is ready and willing to heal.

When looking for a treatment center, look for a well-trained staff that focuses on trauma-informed care. Unresolved trauma frequently is the root cause of mental health issues.

Finding the Right Suicide Treatment Center

Finding the right treatment center is a challenging task, largely because of the vast amount of resources out there and the overwhelming need when you’re in that situation. As a result, it’s important to narrow your scope and find reputable, reliable resources to help you with your search. It can be difficult, but speaking with a reputable center makes all the difference. Contact Integrative Life Center today to learn more about your treatment options.

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