By DeAnna Pearl, MAT, BS, CPS, SOS Tillamook Prevention Program, Tillamook Family Counseling Center
Many efforts to prevent suicide focus on why people take their lives, how a person attempts suicide (the means they use) plays a key role in whether they live or die. Restricting access to lethal/harmful means of self-harm is an important strategy for preventing suicide and injury. This means either removing (preferred) or securely storing/locking the top two items that might be used for self-harm: Firearms and Prescription Drugs.
However, means reduction doesn’t change the underlying suicidal impulse or necessarily reduce attempts, rather, it saves lives by reducing the lethality of attempts. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, women are roughly three times more likely to attempt suicide, though men are around three times more likely to die from suicide. One of the most important reasons for the difference between suicide attempts and completed suicides between men and women is the method of suicide used. Males tend to choose violent (more lethal) suicide methods, such as firearms, and whereas females are more likely to overdose on medications or drugs.
Many suicide attempts are made with little planning during a short-term crisis period. This is especially true for youth. Unfortunately, most firearms used in youth suicide belong to their parent. Statistically, firearms are the most lethal and most common method of suicide in the U.S. More people who die by suicide use a gun than all other methods combined. Suicide attempts with a firearm are almost always fatal, while other methods are less likely to kill. (NOTE: Firearm owners are NOT more suicidal than non-firearm owners; rather, their suicide attempts are more likely to be fatal.) The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the National Shooting Sports Foundation have teamed up to increase awareness about securing firearms and gun safety.
Medications are by far the most common method of nonfatal suicide attempts for all ages and both sexes. Consider locking up ALL medications. Be particularly aware of keeping prescription painkillers (such as oxycodone and methadone) under lock and key both because of their lethality and their potential for abuse, but some over the counter drugs (such as Tylenol) can also be lethal in quantity.
According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.2 million Americans misused controlled prescription drugs. The study shows that a majority of abused prescription drugs were obtained from family and friends, often from the home medicine cabinet. In a suicide safer home, all medications (prescription and over-the-counter) would be secured. As an added layer of protection, dispose of medications that are outdated or that you no longer need. It is now easier than ever to dispose of unwanted medications in Tillamook County there are four convenient locations: Rinehart Clinic in Wheeler, Rockaway Police Department, Tillamook Police Department and Tillamook Sheriff’s Office.
If highly lethal means are less available to impulsive attempters and they substitute less lethal means, or temporarily postpone their attempt, the odds are increased that they will survive. “Too often, a person in a crisis state cannot see anything but their pain and they get to a point where they want it to stop now by any means,” says DeAnna Pearl, Master Suicide Prevention Trainer. “But, additional time between the decision and action — open that safe, find a key, open closet, or unlock a lock, can be enough time for the person with thoughts of suicide to become aware of deadly intent or time for someone to intervene.” Like Benjamin Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, in this case, it saves lives.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, there is help available, call the 24 hour Tillamook crisis line at 503-842-8201 or 800-962-2851, or Line for Life at 877-273-8255. For more information about making Tillamook County a suicide-safer community, go to www.sostillamook.org.