In 2020, suicide became the second leading cause of death among teens and young adults (ages 15 to 24) in the U.S., according to the CDC. And the risk of suicide has only increased for teens, especially among girls and young women.

The Rise of Teen Suicide Rates in the U.S.

One recent nationwide study found that 37% of young Americans aged 18-24 report having thoughts of death and suicide and nearly half (47%) showed at least moderate symptoms of depression — a major indicator of suicidal thoughts and ideation among teens.

Another extensive survey of students from almost 100 college campuses from the American College Health Association found that:

  • ~3% of undergraduate students in the U.S. had seriously considered killing themselves recently (within the last two weeks).
  • 9% endorsed serious suicidal thoughts in the past year.
  • 1 and 2% of university students had attempted suicide in the past year.

The Case for CAMS: CAMS Efficacy Data in Teens

It’s clear that teens and young adults are experiencing suicidal thoughts at increasing rates. In order to reverse this trend, effective suicide prevention programs and procedures need to be put in place for at-risk teens so they can get the professional help and support they desperately need.

Fortunately, there is a solution to help identify and treat the primary drivers of teen suicide. Preliminary data shows promise for using CAMS (Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality) in conjunction with the SSF (Suicide Status Form) with suicidal teens, young adults, and even children, and clinical trial research is being pursued to confirm and formalize that data. (COVID-19’s impact on research efforts caused delays, but efforts are still underway.)

Here’s how to adapt the CAMS Framework to treat and prevent suicidal thoughts and ideation in children, teens, and young adults.

CAMS Framework Overview: How CAMS Works

CAMS is an evidence-based therapeutic assessment and treatment framework that places concerted emphasis on the word “collaborative.”

In this framework, therapists work hand-in-hand with each patient, discussing the patient’s experience in a non-judgmental fashion using the Suicide Status Form (SSF) as a guide to gather information about the patient’s current experience and suicide risk. This framework helps them identify triggers together then work collaboratively to devise treatment and stabilization plans — all while building trust through collaboration and transparency throughout the treatment process.

9 Tips for Adapting the CAMS Framework for Working with Youth

Generally speaking, the CAMS framework works very well with adolescents. In fact, in a recent study, the SSF has been found to work as well with teens, especially older teens, as it does with adults with just a few adjustments.

Here are 9 tips and adjustments to help achieve better results when using the CAMS framework with teens:

    1. Implement Breaks. More frequent breaks will help keep teens’ attention spans while increasing focus.
    2. Be on Their Side. If the teen is comfortable, try sitting next to them instead of across from them to reinforce the idea that you’re on their side, COVID distancing protocols permitting, of course. For tips on working with patients during the pandemic, check out the webinar held by Dr. Moore and Dr. Jobes.
    3. Don’t Skip the Paperwork. Explain how the SSF works so teens have a chance to ask questions about this important collaborative document. It gives everyone a chance to get on the same page and create mutual understanding.
    4. Get Them Involved. Allow the teen to complete the first page of the SSF for themself as you talk them through it. This participation in the CAMS framework will reinforce that it’s a collaborative process. Teens especially appreciate this since it gives them a feeling of control and lets them know you value their input.
    5. Show Your Work. In the same spirit, as is standard in CAMS, let the teen watch as you complete page two with them. Teens particularly appreciate when you avoid the impression that you are “hiding” anything in your assessment. Remember, it’s all about collaboration and shared information that builds trust.
    6. Set Your Objectives. As you guide the teen to identify their top two “drivers”, explain what the goals and objectives of CAMS will be throughout the treatment process.
    7. Show How It Works. Explain which interventions they can use to help achieve those goals, for example, they can set simple goals to decrease self-hate (a common driver in teens) and increase self-esteem.
    8. Show Your Expertise. Elements from Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Theory (DBT) skills, problem-solving, and interpersonal therapy can all be identified and used as interventions successfully with teens. Show that you’re qualified to assess and treat each patient.
    9. Collaboration Comes First. Always work together with the teen to collaboratively write treatment and stabilization plans. You’re in this together.

The CAMS assessment provides a guided walk-through of the teen’s life at that moment. If a particular stressor or issue that relates to the current suicidal thoughts is uncovered early enough, it can be addressed quickly in treatment. Remember however, that it is particularly easy for teens to become overwhelmed and feel that their situation is unsurmountable.

If any teen is in an acute suicidal state, try to work with them to identify the problem first. CAMS has been found to be very useful in breaking down these factors into manageable pieces that the teen is able to recognize as treatable.

How CAMS Can Help: Additional Resources for Teen Suicide Treatment and Prevention

Dr. Jobes, the creator and developer of CAMS, recently held a webinar on Adolescent Suicide Prevention with Dr. Cheryl King. In the webinar, available on demand at the CAMS website, Dr. King talks about her extensive expertise in youth suicide prevention, focusing on risk factors for youth suicide, screen, and assessment, and discusses clinical prevention work including her YST approach.

CAMS-care offers training for CAMS-4Teens through a one-hour, on-demand video course co-led by Dr. Jobes and myself (Dr. Amy Brausch, Professor at Western Kentucky University). The course, including downloadable handouts and articles, covers the following objectives:

      • Reviews the current research on treating suicide risk with teens
        Discusses 5 potential suicide “drivers” for adolescents
      • Explains tips for adapting and implementing the CAMS Approach for suicidal teens
      • Shares strategies for effectively working with parents and guardians of suicidal teens

Continuing Education credits are available for this course.

Learn more about how you can become CAMS Trained and Certified to provide an evidence-based suicide treatment framework with all of your patients, no matter their age.