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Suicide precautions


St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is committed to keeping you, your child, and the St. Jude staff safe. This handout explains the actions we take if we believe your child might hurt themselves or others. We call these actions “suicide precautions.” They are designed to help keep your child and everyone else safe.

We will tell you if and when we use suicide precautions for your child, because you are the parent or caregiver. We will also give you written information on suicide precautions. This Do You Know is an example of that information.

We use a specific process to learn if your child is at risk of hurting themselves or someone else. Please read Do You Know . . . Risk Assessment to learn about this process.

When does St. Jude use suicide precautions?

St. Jude does not provide primary mental health or substance abuse treatment for St. Jude patients. However, we do use suicide precautions when we are concerned about your child’s safety or another person’s. For example,

  • Your child does something to show they might hurt themselves or someone else,
  • Your child says they have thoughts of hurting themselves or someone else, or
  • Your child has plans to hurt themselves or someone else.

We might also use suicide precautions if your child is at high risk of accidentally hurting themselves or others. Or, we might use them if your child shows more signs of doing this than in the past. For example, we might do these things if your child pulls out their lines.

What suicide precautions does St. Jude use?

First, a psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychiatric nurse practitioner does an examination called a “risk assessment.” Part of this focuses on what your child needs to stay safe right now. It also includes:

  • Discussing the best ways to keep your child safe, and
  • Identifying things that raise or lower your child’s risk of hurting themselves or someone else – These might be personal things about your child, or things in their surroundings that affect the risk. 

What are suicide precautions?

Below is a list of suicide precautions. It does not include everything we might do to help protect your child, but it gives examples of what we do to keep them and other people safe.

  • Take unsafe objects out of your child’s room. These can include pens, pencils, scissors, wire hangers, plastic bags, and medical items with cords. We might take other items out of your child’s room, too. We will check the room for any objects that could be dangerous.
  • Ask you to take certain objects from your child, including personal items. This might include lighters, pocket knives, belts, medicines, nail files, and anything with wires. We can help you check for any other objects that could be dangerous.
  • Ask about the objects you have with you. We will ask you to remove anything your child could use to hurt themselves or someone else. You may take it home, or we can help you put it where your child cannot get it.
  • Always have a “sitter” with your child to keep them safe. The sitter might be a nurse, a patient care assistant, or someone else working with St. Jude. They will be with your child at all times, even in the restroom. We understand this might make your child uncomfortable, but we need to make sure your child is safe. You can expect the sitter to be professional, respectful, and understanding.
  • Bring your child’s meals in paper dishes and cups. We might ask your child to order food they can eat without a fork, knife, or spoon. Or we might allow your child to use a plastic spoon. We will take this away as soon as your child has finished eating.
  • Watch your child take any medicines we give them.

We will do a formal review of your child’s safety and risk at least once each day. We will also tell you when it is safe to bring certain items back to your child or their room.

Does my child really need suicide precautions?

Yes, if the psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychiatric nurse practitioner who did the risk assessment decides they are needed. If they decide this, it means the precautions are necessary for your child’s safety, other people’s safety, or both.

Most children, teens, and young adults who hurt themselves or someone else show warning signs. These often include doing or saying things that parents, friends, or others think were not meant seriously. We need to take these signs seriously because we have determined they could result in harm to your child or to others.

We know you can watch your child closely, but using a sitter allows you to eat, sleep, and care for yourself. This helps you continue being the best possible caregiver to your child.

How long will my child need suicide precautions?

As long as we are concerned that they might hurt themselves or someone else. We are always working to keep your child safe, and we do a formal review of your child’s safety and risk at least once a day. The precautions will end when a psychologist, psychiatrist, or psychiatric nurse practitioner decides that your child is safe without the precautions. Or they will end when your child goes someplace else for care.


If you have questions, please contact the person or people on your child’s health care team who reviewed your child’s safety and risk level. We want to make sure you and your child understand why we need suicide precautions, and how these actions help keep your child and others safe.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

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