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Child Psychiatrist /Adult Psychiatrist

Lethal Means Safety for Suicide Prevention

A gun that was locked and secured.

National Suicide Prevention Month is a time to remember the lives lost to suicide, support those experiencing suicidal thoughts, and raise awareness about suicide prevention. Lethal means safety is an evidence-based suicide prevention practice that involves making a suicide attempt method less available or more difficult to access immediately, reducing the risk of harm and saving lives. In the United States, firearms are the most common and lethal method of attempting, with nearly 90% of suicide attempts involving firearms being fatal.

The mechanics of lethal means safety involve making a firearm less available or inaccessible during a crisis, allowing for someone to intervene or reach out for help. Research has consistently found that if someone's preferred suicide attempt method is unavailable, they will generally not attempt using a different method. If a person does attempt suicide using a different method, a far less lethal method is likely to be used, and subsequently the person is more likely to survive. Surviving a suicide attempt allows the person to get the help they need and allows them to thrive and live a fruitful life.

Key strategies to promote lethal means safety include practicing safe storage initiatives, ensuring that firearms are stored unloaded, with ammunition stored separately, in a gun safe or tamper-proof storage box, or with external locking devices.

Reducing access to lethal means of self-harm is crucial for a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention. Firearms and high-dose medications are the most lethal methods, and reducing access is essential for preventing suicide attempts during short-term crises. Families, organizations, healthcare providers, and policymakers can take various actions to reduce access to lethal means, including limiting access to medications and storing firearms safely.

In cases of a person experiencing a crisis, it is safe to remove lethal means from the household until the situation improves. Communities can also focus means restriction efforts on local suicide "hotspots" like bridges.

To take action, individuals should obtain and share knowledge about the issue, educate family members, train mental health professionals, and educate the community about temporary firearm storage options. Implementing lethal means counseling policies in health and behavioral health care settings, working with gun retailers and owner groups, and ensuring protective barriers in bridges and high buildings are also essential steps.


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