Prevention & Awareness

The Most Effective Suicide Prevention Strategy

Content Warning: This blog post discusses means of suicide within the context of means reduction as a suicide prevention strategy.

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and we’ll talk a lot about why people struggle with suicidal ideation and decide to take their own lives. We’ll discuss the aftermath of those decisions, and the help-seeking strategies that prevent us from reaching that crisis point.

The why is incredibly important. It helps us understand how we feel, where we’ve been, and how we can make the future more hopeful. But addressing the why is not yet the most effective strategy for preventing suicide.

Right now, the most effective strategy for preventing suicide is talking about the one thing we’d all prefer to avoid: the HOW.

As suicide prevention advocates, we often avoid talking about how because it is a discussion of means of suicide. As well-trained advocates we know that addressing specific means of suicide can be triggering and spread contagion. But in a group of advocates who are not at risk for suicide, it’s a critical piece of the suicide prevention puzzle.

Means reduction saves lives.

When we work together to reduce the availability of the most lethal means of suicide to those who are struggling, we can lower the suicide rate.

According to the Means Matter campaign (a project of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), 71% of people who attempt suicide deliberated for less than one hour, making it a relatively impulsive decision for many. So, what are the chances that if accessing means required more than an hour, the suicidal crisis would pass and the attempt wouldn’t be made? Pretty good.

Starting with reducing the most lethal means of suicide is the best approach because 90% of suicide attempt survivors will not die by suicide later. And this means we have to wade into the touchy subject of gun ownership.

No, we’re not coming for everyone’s firearms. But we are suggesting that when a loved one is deeply depressed and considering suicide, you help them remove the firearms from their possession for as long as they need to be completely safe around them again.

Likewise, if you are a parent, partner, or roommate to someone who is suicidal, and you’re a gun owner, consider removing the firearms from your home temporarily or purchasing gun locks, a safe, and storing ammunition separately. It’s always better to get the firearms out of the house completely, though, so take that into account.

Limiting access to firearms is only one of many approaches to means reduction, especially on campuses. This month, as part of our Suicide Prevention Month efforts, we’re launching our Transform Your Campus Means Reduction advocacy campaign. If you want to start reducing suicide attempts on and near campus this year, go to www.ActiveMinds.org/Transform, sign up, click on “Featured Campaigns” and get started!

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line. Both services are available 24/7.