Pablo Picasso once said “What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.” I don’t know if Picasso was thinking about means restriction as a tool for suicide prevention when he said this, but when it comes to saving lives, his words are highly relevant. Someone you know may have the intention of dying by suicide, but they aren’t going to “think” themselves to death. When it comes to the topic of suicide, it’s the action they take that makes all the difference. Means restriction is a way to thwart an attempt from occurring. It involves eliminating or reducing access to the things an individual may use during the act of suicide, especially any items they have been considering. These may include: firearms, ropes, cords, medications, sharp objects, gas, exhaust, etc.
Means Restriction = Fewer Completed Suicides
If means restriction offers your loved one a pause between thought turning into action, isn’t it worth exploring? I believe it is, and worldwide research suggests significant life-saving results. In one example, the British Journal of Preventative and Social Medicine reported a net drop of 30% in the overall suicide rate of the United Kingdom when their domestic gas was replaced by a nontoxic natural gas. The inhalation of this gas had been their most prevalent method of suicide. The American Journal of Preventative Medicine confirms these findings. They report that reducing the availability of highly lethal and commonly used methods has been associated with declines in suicide rates as much as 30%-50% in other countries.
Translating Means Restriction to the United States In the U.S., domestic gas and medications do not lead in the cause of suicide deaths. Rather, completed suicides by firearm are greater in number than all other methods combined. About one-third of American households contain firearms and 51% of all suicides involve firearms. This does not mean we need to advocate against the right to own firearms, but we do need to promote responsible gun ownership. It is absolutely possible to protect Second Amendment while protecting the lives of those who might use a firearm to attempt suicide. Research shows that the risk of suicide is two-to-five-fold higher in gun-owning homes for all household members, with relative risk being especially high for youth and people without known suicidal predisposition. This higher risk, among all age groups, gender, and other defining demographics has proven to be a primary factor in completed suicides, with no difference in non-gun suicides.
Translated, this means that across the United States, reducing an individual’s access to firearms has the most potential to result in a material drop in suicide rates. Bringing Means Restriction into Your Home When it comes to your environment, what can you do to keep your family and yourself safe? Openly discuss with all family members the very real risk of suicide. Extensive research has shown that the topic and impact of suicide does not discriminate. For this reason, the topic of suicide must be welcomed and encouraged for discussion anytime, for any reason. Make time to talk over the value of taking pause before doing anything that might cause harm or death to oneself or someone else. This final point of conversation is one that can have far reaching benefits, applying to behaviors and actions not only relating to suicide, but to many other “life” decisions. When it comes to preventing suicide among your family and friends, firearm safety is a factor that must be considered but it is not the only factor. Any means available, especially to those having more than one risk factor or behavior creates an increased risk for suicide. A history of impulsivity or limited range of healthy coping skills should also be of concern. Perhaps the greatest factor of all, however, comes down to the means a person is willing and able to use to end their psychological pain at any given time. This equates to the significant need for open, courageous, conversation with those you love. Ask the question, “If you were to ever find yourself considering suicide, what do you think you would use to end your life?” Discuss ways to protect yourself and one another if that day were to ever come.
If you hear of someone attempting or dying by suicide, use it as an opportuntiy to continue the conversation. Keep the conversation ongoing just the same as you might talk about refraining from texting while driving or the importance of eating a healthy diet. And, if you do have one or more firearms, make sure they are locked away with ammunition stored in a separate, secure location. Stay mindful of any changes in character or behavior of those you care about. Then, limit access to anyone you feel might, even unexpectedly, experience suicidal thoughts. For households with no known active suicide ideation, life-saving steps can still make a difference. Remember, not everyone will explicitly seek help for their suicidal feelings. Some may never even verbalize their thoughts. Should you or a loved one ever find yourselves pushed past your ability to cope, now is the time to plan ahead.
Picasso brought us more than his brilliant art; he shared some real life insight – it’s not what we intend to do that counts, only the action we specifically take. Don’t delay on your good intentions. Take action today and turn your home into a suicide-safe environment.
Written by: Deeatra K and Michelle Cherney