Restricting Access from Means of Harm

When a person is considering suicide, or when they are exhibiting suicidal tendencies, it only makes sense that restricting access to the means for suicide might lead to a different outcome. Research shows just how important that is.

Studies reported by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (NAASP) show that many suicidal crises are short-lived; about 30 percent said that the suicidal period lasted under an hour. Other surveys show that the time between deciding on suicide and the attempt was 10 minutes or less.

The proportion of attempts resulting in death vary dramatically based on the method chosen. Firearms, for instance, succeed much more frequently than medication overdoses or sharp instruments.

NAASP set a goal of reducing the suicide rate by 20 percent over a five-year period. Restricting access to means of suicide was listed as a key goal.

NAASP’s research shows that making it more difficult to obtain a highly lethal method may lead the person to choose a method that is less likely to prove fatal, or to not attempt suicide at all. NAASP suggests physically impeding access—such as using gun locks or installing bridge barriers—and reducing the lethality or toxicity of a given method (such as reducing the carbon monoxide content of motor vehicle exhaust). Reducing cognitive access, such as discouraging media coverage of an emerging suicide method, is another key factor.

The World Health Organization (WHO) found similar successes around the world, targeting methods that are favored in specific cultures. In some countries, for instance, the preferred method is ingesting pesticides; in others, it is carbon monoxide poisoning by burning charcoal.

The point: It’s important to remove the access to the method that may be preferred by the suicidal person. The good news is that given the instantaneous nature of the decision—and the relatively short time that the crisis exists—a simple obstacle may save a life.

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Sources:

World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/pesticides/en/

National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention: http://actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/sites/actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/files/Reducing%20a%20Suicidal%20Persons%20Access%20to%20Lethal.pdf