All suicidal plans or attempts are extremely serious no matter the means. Suicide is one of the leading causes of youth death in our state. When we talk about suicide, it’s important to not only ask ‘why,’ but also to think about ‘how.’ The means that someone can use to hurt or kill themselves can often make a large difference in the lethality of an attempt. For example, firearms are used in suicides more than every other method combined. Likewise, most non-fatal self-harm or suicide attempts involve overdosing or poisoning, whereas only 1% of non-fatal suicide attempts involve a firearm.
Studies have shown that when someone young attempts to kill themselves, the act is usually based on a relatively short-lived, impulsive, and acute crisis. If reducing or restricting the means increases the time that it would take for someone to kill themselves, then there is a significant chance that the suicidal thoughts and feelings will subside. Once someone is suicidal, they don’t necessarily remain imminently suicidal. Having a means (especially a firearm) readily available dramatically increases the chance that the suicidal person will go through with their impulsive plan.
Are we saying that the attention should only be paid to firearms?
Absolutely not, but firearms tend to be the most serious, fatal, and totally irreversible of means. According to a study done by the CDC, a firearm in the household is a major risk factor for suicide deaths. There are many ways that people use to kill themselves and we need to be careful with all means.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health:
Source of Firearms in Youth Suicides
Among the most tragic suicides are those by young people. Too often youths use their parents' guns. An NVISS study of firearm suicides among youths ages 17 and under occurring over a two-year period in four states and two counties found that 82% used a firearm belonging to a family member, usually a parent. When storage status was noted, about two-thirds of the firearms had been stored unlocked. Among the remaining cases in which the firearms had been locked, the youth knew the combination or where the key was kept or broke into the cabinet.
Parents may believe that their guns are adequately "hidden" or that their kids would never use them in a suicide attempt. But studies show parents sometimes underestimate their children's experience handling guns at home. In a study by Baxley and Miller, among gun-owning parents who reported that their children had never handled their firearms at home, 22% of the children, questioned separately, said that they had.
Safe storage makes a difference.
While the risk of youth suicide is lowest in families with no firearms at home, among gun-owning families, youths living in homes in which all firearms are stored unloaded and locked are at lower risk for suicide than those living in homes in which firearms are stored less securely (Grossman 2005).
Baxley F, Miller M. Parental misperceptions about children and firearms. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. 2006;160(5):542-7.
Grossman DC, Mueller BA, Riedy C, et al. Gun storage practices and risk of youth suicide and unintentional firearm injuries. JAMA. 2005;293(6):707-14.
There are several things we can do:
If you know that someone in your house is suicidal or depressed, it’s best that firearms are not in the house. Ask a neighbor or a friend if they would mind holding on to the gun for awhile. Some police departments offer temporary firearm holding (you should check with your local PD about what they offer and proper procedure before doing anything). Another option is to sell the firearm.
If you are definitely sure that you don’t want to temporarily move the gun somewhere else or sell it, then you also have the option of locking it up. There are numerous ways to lock up a gun - cable locks, trigger locks, or even a gun safe. Again, some local police departments, primary care physicians, or pediatricians offer free gun locks.
If you or someone in your house takes prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, or even herbal supplements for health conditions, it’s important that you keep those locked up and away from those who do not use them.Medications
If the person who takes medication is the one who is suicidal or depressed, it is suggested that someone else be in charge of handing out those medications to the person in need. This way, the person does not have the direct ability to overdose on those drugs. The person given charge of the medication can be anyone from family, friends, neighbors, or anyone else that is in direct contact with the person in need.
Other Dangerous Materials
Knives, razors and other sharp objects should be stored securely when you live with someone who is depressed and especially when there are children in the home.
These can be in a locked box or in a cabinet out of reach. Even just getting these materials out of sight of someone who is depressed or suicidal can discourage their use.