More than once, I’ve heard, “I am worried about my spouse’s suicidal thoughts and even their plans. I understand the concept of “means restriction”, but just because we lock up our guns (or medication, or knives, or something else)… won’t my spouse simply find another way?”
This is an understandable question, and it actually includes part of the answer within the question itself, “Won’t my spouse ‘simply’ find another way?”. There is nothing ‘simple’ about suicide. Ending your LiFE is a difficult endeavor, at best. As human beings, we’re wired to protect our lives. Therefore, arriving at this painful place took time and preparation (please note, not all suicide attempts are entered with a detailed plan). When we’ve reached our psychological limits, and the plan we’ve made cannot be carried out (or if we don’t have a specific plan), it will take additional time, effort, and energy to find an alternative approach we’re comfortable with. This is why means restriction is an important part of suicide prevention. And, when it comes to creating a safe environment for an individual at risk, safe-guarding your firearms is just one step. In addition to this, a discussion with your spouse and a walk-through of your house can be used to identify other methods they may potentially use. Care should be taken to eliminate and/or reduce access to these methods as much as possible. Even with your environment safe-guarded, yes, it is possible your spouse may find another way. However, the steps you took above will work in their favor when it comes to preventing a completed attempt.
First, many suicidal crises are short-lived (on average three hours or less). Without means readily available, the suicidal period has a greater chance of passing before an attempt can be made.
Second, without your spouse’s chosen method available, they may not attempt at all. As I mentioned above, ending your LiFE is already a difficult thing to do. And, when the plan you made cannot be carried out, an attempt becomes even more challenging.
Third, the proportion of attempts that result in death varies significantly across methods. The rate of completed suicides with a firearm is 85%, while other commonly used methods result in fatality 1%-2% of the time. When those highly lethal methods have been eliminated through means restriction, the likelihood of survival significantly increases.
Fourth, with less immediately-lethal means available, there is a greater chance to intervene mid-attempt (by the individual’s own change of heart or an interruption from a third-party) with little to no physical harm to the individual. The goal of “means restriction” is the prevention of an attempted or completed suicide. It is a significant tool for giving the gift of second chances to someone you care about and should be used as part of an overall approach to save a life.