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Reducing Access to Lethal Means for National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Reducing Access to Lethal Means for National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Suicide is a sensitive and often painful topic, but it’s important to discuss it honestly, and no time is better than now. September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which marks an opportunity to have an open dialogue about suicide. Speaking about this subject may be challenging, but remaining silent can have devastating results. 

What many people don’t consider is how the effects of suicidal ideation or death by suicide span far beyond the individual — family, friends, acquaintances, and co-workers also feel the impact of such a loss. That’s why it’s important to pay close attention to the risk factors and subtle warning signs, even if a suicidal person doesn’t ask for help. Although it is never anyone else’s fault if someone attempts suicide, there are actions you can take to reduce the risk and provide support to a friend in need.

Suicide Risk Factors

While not all suicidal people have these risk factors, they correlate strongly with suicidal ideation. Suicidal people with these risk factors should never have easy access to lethal means. If a loved one exhibits the following illnesses or behaviors, be aware that they are much more likely to take their own life, and may need extra support or oversight.

Mental Illness

Studies show that 90% of those who died by suicide had a diagnosable mental health condition. If someone with a mental illness also struggles with Substance Use Disorders (SUDs), it increases their suicide risk. Although depression is the most prevalent suicide risk factor, several other mental health issues increase the risk of suicide, including:

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Borderline Personality Disorder

Alcohol and Other Drug Misuse

People who misuse substances also face an increased risk of suicide. Studies show that individuals struggling with alcohol dependence and misuse have a suicide risk that is ten times greater than those without. Furthermore, alcohol intoxication is involved in 22% of suicide deaths in America. Opiate misuse also increases an individual’s suicide risk, with studies confirming the presence of opiates in 20% of suicide deaths.  

The relationship between suicide and substance use exists for the following reasons:

  • Increased risk of depression
  • Lowered inhibitions while intoxicated
  • Higher psychological distress from substance misuse
  • Intoxication increases the chance that a suicidal individual will act on their ideation
  • Substance misuse impairs an individual’s ability to implement healthy coping mechanisms

History of Trauma

People who experience physical or sexual trauma may develop PTSD, making it challenging to escape flashbacks, nightmares, and the feelings of worthlessness that trauma can induce. After a traumatic event, people often develop depression and anxiety while also struggling to form satisfying relationships with others. 

The dangerous combination of isolation and an unstable mood reduces the likelihood that someone with a history of trauma will reach out for help, subsequently increasing their suicide risk. Surveys in the United States reflect this assertion, with data stating that people who experienced multiple sexual (42.9%) or physical assaults (73.5%) are more likely to attempt suicide

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI)

A person who engages in non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) will intentionally cause bodily harm in ways that do not align with their cultural norms. While people that partake in NSSI may not be suicidal, NSSI significantly increases the risk that they will take their own lives by suicide. NSSI could manifest in the following ways:

  • Cutting or skin carving
  • Burning, abrading, or scratching
  • Hitting and punching
  • Pinching or biting
  • Interference with wound healing

In severe but rare cases of NSSI, an individual may engage in ocular enucleation or auto-amputation. However, 70% of patients who self-injure cut themselves. Although NSSI is most common in adolescents, adults also engage in NSSI behaviors.

The Warning Signs of Suicidal Ideation

People who are suicidal may frequently talk about death or express feelings of hopelessness. But at the same time, when battling suicidal ideation, people may feel isolated from others, ashamed of their thoughts, or reluctant to reach out for help. In severe cases of suicidal ideation, a person may try to remain secretive about their plans to ensure that no one stops them. They may go so far as to give away prized possessions or say goodbye to family and friends.

Unfortunately, less common signs of suicidal ideation can go unnoticed family members or friends. Be aware that if a loved one is displaying the following symptoms, they may be considering suicide:

  • Out-of-Character Behavior. Others often fail to notice this sign of suicidal ideation because it is not directly related to depression. For instance, someone who is typically calm may become uncharacteristically aggressive. In other cases, a person who struggles with depression may suddenly become cheerful. They may also increase their substance use or exhibit erratic mood swings.
  • Emotional Distancing. People who are suicidal often disengage from others and activities they once enjoyed. You may also notice indifferent responses when emotional situations occur.
  • Physical Pain. Depression is a mental illness that can manifest itself in actual physical pain. When someone you know is consistently experiencing digestive issues, headaches, or random bodily pains, it could be a sign of suicidal ideation or depression. This is especially true if there is no discernible explanation for their pain, and it's accompanied by other signs on this list.
  • Obtaining Lethal Means. Sometimes, it’s easy to notice a person gathering lethal means. For instance, someone suicidal may state that they purchased a gun. However, others may secretly stockpile pills. Restricting access to lethal means is one of the most effective ways to prevent death by suicide. For instance, ensure that lethal means such as firearms, knives, and ropes are inaccessible. And don’t overlook pills or prescription drugs — keep any potentially dangerous medications in secure Locking Pill Bottles

If you notice a loved one exhibiting worrisome behaviors but not actively threatening suicide, go the extra mile to show them they aren’t alone. Take the time to speak with this person in private in a judgment-free environment. Ask them if they are thinking about taking their life. Even if they deny suicidal ideation, offer options for them to seek professional health from trustworthy mental health professionals. Make sure that you provide the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as well, so they have a 24/7 resource to turn to.

If a person is actively threatening suicide, has access to lethal means, or is talking about their plans to die by suicide, call 911 immediately. Do not leave a suicidal person alone under any circumstances.

The Importance of Limiting “Lethal Means” in Suicide Prevention

Above, we talked about limiting access to “lethal means.” But what does this entail?

The term “lethal means” refers to any object or substance an individual may use to partake in suicidal behavior. Common lethal means include:

  • Sharp objects, such as scissors or kitchen knives
  • Firearms
  • Items that can be used to hang oneself, such as long ropes
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Poisonous substances, such as household cleaning products and carbon monoxide
  • Vitamins and other health supplements

Although each person struggling with suicidal thoughts has a different story, every death by suicide has one thing in common: the use of lethal means to act on suicidal ideation. That’s why restricting access to lethal means significantly reduces the chance you or a loved one will attempt suicide amid an emotional crisis. The CDC’s Strategic Prevention Plan emphasizes reducing access to lethal means in people at high risk of committing suicide. 

Sometimes, even the slightest barrier or obstacle to undertaking suicidal behavior can prevent the attempt. While keeping violent lethal means out of reach is extremely important, keeping your prescription medications and health supplements is another one of the most effective ways to prevent suicide. Almost everyone has over-the-counter or prescription medications in their home and easy availability is often the determining factor for a person’s method of suicide. From here on out, store your pills in secure, safe Locking Pill Bottles to ensure that no one obtains unauthorized access to your medications. With this simple act, you could save a life.

Protect Your Loved Ones and Support National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month with Safe Rx

As we observe National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, try to do all that you can to support loved ones struggling with suicidal thoughts, mental illness, and substance misuse. While you cannot always prevent suicide, there are still actions you can take to reduce the chances of a suicide attempt.

Restricting access to lethal means is the first step in suicide prevention. This includes accounting for the safe use and storage of prescription medications. At Safe Rx, we are dedicated to supporting medication safety to prevent misuse, recreational overdose, and intentional attempts to self-harm. That’s why Safe Rx Locking Pill Bottles allow you to protect your prescription medications and other pills with a secure 4-digit code.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Safe Rx can assist in medication safety and suicide prevention, contact us today.