Reducing a Suicidal Person’s Access to Lethal Means of Suicide

A Research Agenda
      Reducing the availability of highly lethal and commonly used suicide methods has been associated with declines in suicide rates of as much as 30%–50% in other countries. The theory and evidence underlying means restriction is outlined. Most evidence of its efficacy comes from population-level interventions and natural experiments. In the U.S., where 51% of suicides are completed with firearms and household firearm ownership is common and likely to remain so, reducing a suicidal person’s access to firearms will usually be accomplished not by fiat or other legislative initiative but rather by appealing to individual decision, for example, by counseling at-risk people and their families to temporarily store household firearms away from home or otherwise making household firearms inaccessible to the at-risk person until they have recovered. Providers, gatekeepers, and gun owner groups are important partners in this work. Research is needed in a number of areas: communications research to identify effective messages and messengers for “lethal means counseling,” clinical trials to identify effective interventions, translational research to ensure broad uptake of these interventions across clinical and community settings, and foundational research to better understand method choice and substitution. Approaches to suicide methods other than firearms are discussed. Means restriction is one of the few empirically based strategies to substantially reduce the number of suicide deaths.
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