Increasing the time and distance between individuals in suicidal crisis and their access to lethal means can reduce suicide risk and save lives.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States and according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1.7 million Americans attempted suicide in 2021 with millions more who reported seriously thinking about it.
This topic is complex, and for many of us, it can be difficult to confront, but suicide is preventable. The more we learn about suicide and ways to prevent it, the better we can help ourselves, our loved ones and our communities.
Research reported by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office shows a 91% reduction in suicides from initiatives that focus on limiting access to lethal means. This prevention strategy is called lethal means safety.
What Is Lethal Means Safety?
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), lethal means are objects that can be used by individuals experiencing a suicidal crisis, such as guns, medications, alcohol, opioids, other substances, ropes, cords and sharp objects. If someone is in crisis or having suicidal thoughts, these items can become deadly if easily accessible.
Lethal means safety involves reducing a person’s suicide risk by limiting access to those lethal means. Increasing the time and distance between individuals in suicidal crisis and their access to lethal means can reduce suicide risk and save lives.
What Steps Can I Take to Implement Lethal Means Safety?
Research shows that the period between thinking about suicide to acting on it is quick – often only a few minutes. Lethal means safety extends the time available for a change of heart or for someone to intervene. Taking the steps listed below can reduce the number of suicides and save lives.
- Check on your loved ones. If you know someone who is feeling overwhelmed, have a direct conversation. Don’t be afraid to bring up suicide or ask if they’ve considered it. Ask if they have access to any lethal means. If so, ask if they would allow you to safely store them during difficult times or until things are under control.
- Store your firearms safely. According to VA research, nearly 7 out of every 10 Veteran deaths by suicide are the result of firearm injuries. Making sure guns are unloaded and securing them with a simple lock puts important space between suicidal thoughts and the trigger. Separating firearms and ammunition when not in use is also important. Learn more about requesting a lock from your local VA and about different firearm locks and secure storage options.
- Store your medications safely. Many of us have to take daily medications to control certain health conditions and live a healthy life, but medications should be stored safely when they’re not in use to prevent intentional and unintentional misuse or overdose. Here are some tips:
- Have a family member or a friend help manage doses.
- Portion pills out for the week, then lock the rest away.
- Dispose of any medications that are expired, unused or no longer needed.
- Talk to your health care provider about your medication quantities, access to refills and packaging types. For example, you can request smaller quantities of certain medications to prevent access to a lethal dose or amount. You can also request a blister pack, which requires you to push individual doses through foil for each use.
- Consider keeping sedatives, stimulants or opioid medications in a locked location. Visit a pharmacy or look online for different lock box options.
- Get the support you need. We all have a role to play in suicide prevention and there are a wide range of resources available to help. Whether you’re worried about a loved one or are experiencing suicidal thoughts of your own, you’re not alone.
- Veterans Crisis Line – Call 988 and press 1 or text 838255 to connect with a Veterans Crisis Line responder for confidential crisis support any time day or night. You don’t have to be enrolled in VA benefits or health care to connect.
- VA’s Suicide Prevention page – VA offers several suicide prevention resources for Veterans and their loved ones. Learn more about VA S.A.V.E. training, self-help resources, evidence-based treatment options and more.
- VA’s Reach Program offers comprehensive information and resources designed for Veterans. Take a self-assessment and explore resources that relate to specific life challenges, such as substance use, financial issues, relationship troubles and more.
- TriWest offers tools for coping and additional suicide prevention resources on its site. Take the time. Make the time. Be There™.
- The BeThe1To campaign shares five evidence-backed action steps for communicating with someone who may be suicidal, including having direct conversations, increasing connectedness, limiting access to lethal means and more.
Educating ourselves about suicide is a key component in prevention. The more we learn and understand about proven prevention strategies, the more we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Lethal means safety is an effective and simple tool we can all implement to save lives and prevent suicide.