Though a person may experience repeated occurrences of suicidal thoughts, the intention to end his or her life is often temporary. A key strategy for suicide prevention is creating suicide-safe environments, which lessen an at-risk person’s ability to harm themselves with the intent to end their own life. It is the pre-planned and enacted steps to limit access to life-threatening methods that time becomes a critical factor in saving a life from being lost by suicide. By extending the time or effort needed to act on suicidal intent, you create a window of opportunity for the severity of psychological pain and crisis to pass or for a friend or family member to intervene. Statistics show a suicide attempt initiated by the use of a gun is fatal 85% of the time, and firearms account for more than half of all completed suicides. When minutes, or even seconds, count, the use of gun-locks can eliminate this risk or grant the individual the additional time necessary to reassess their suicidal thoughts. Likewise, similar steps can be taken to limit access to prescription and over the counter drugs. For example, safely store pills in a safe and have a trusted person manage medication distribution.
Restricted access to items that may turn lethal if used by a suicidal individual may feel intrusive. Ask for help from others who care about someone you are concerned for. Together, share how much you value them and your commitment to support them through their challenging times. Then, explain the purpose of limiting their access to one or more means they may turn to during an episode of active suicide ideation. Though they may resist, express that the need for added safety is meant to give them time to begin healing from the events and behaviors that are causing their psychological pain. Ask if they will allow you to help them get help, with the goal of restoring their desire for life. Refrain from “telling” them what they have to do; rather ask if they meet with a mental health professional, a doctor, a minister, or someone skilled in suicide ideation recovery. Ask them to share what you can do to best help them begin to feel better and explain that healing one’s mind, like most challenges in life, requires a network of support.
Means restriction doesn’t have to last forever, but it should continue until a sustained sense of mental wellness has been achieved and a psychiatric professional has indicated it is safe to reintroduce access of the restricted means, with no worries of future suicidal action. Until then, time and restricted access can go a long way in preventing a suicidal act, or worse, the loss of a loved one by suicide.