While it is not an easy topic to address, suicide is a topic that must be addressed and awareness must be spread in order to help increase prevention. Sadly, suicide rates have become the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults in the age range of 5 to 24 years old. In addition, suicide rates have increased significantly over the last twenty years for people of all ages. These disheartening facts make it imperative that as a society we continue to educate ourselves about suicidal ideation and early suicidal warning signs, not just during this Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, but all year long. Read on for detailed information from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) specific for foster parents and child welfare professionals on how to detect suicidal warning signs for foster children and youth.
Warning Signs of Suicide
It is important that foster caregivers and other people in support roles are familiar with the following warning signs of suicide and know how to help. Some behaviors may mean a person is at immediate risk for suicide.
These three should prompt action right away:
• Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
• Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or obtaining a gun
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
If the child is in imminent danger of suicide, the foster caregiver should stay with him or her until help has been obtained. The child needs to be kept safe until a mental health professional can conduct an assessment. If there is immediate potential for self-harm, 911 should be called. While this step can be difficult for the caregiver and frightening for the child, it may be necessary to ensure the child’s safety. The caregiver should go with the child to a hospital emergency department.
It may also help to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (see box). Trained staff provide crisis counseling, suicide intervention, and information about local resources to suicidal youth and adults as well as support to family and friends who are concerned.
Other behaviors may also indicate a serious risk for suicide—especially if the behavior is new; has increased; and/or seems
related to a painful event, loss, or change:
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Displaying extreme mood swings
(Adapted from National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, [n.d.])
It may be difficult for foster caregivers to distinguish between warning signs of suicide and a child’s emotional reaction to being placed in foster care. The unfamiliarity of a new living situation as well as the uncertainty of the future can affect a child’s moods, schoolwork, and relationships. It is important, however, to pay attention to and try to explore any indication that something is bothering a child. These warning signs can be used as a starting point to talk with the foster child about what he or she is feeling.
Foster caregivers should regularly report their observations of their foster child’s moods and behaviors to
the child’s social worker or a staff member at the foster care agency.