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Would it Help to Restrict the Means to Suicide?

Helping by Restricting the Means to SuicideMost people think that a suicidal person is one determined individual who will try to complete their suicide by any means possible, for as long as it takes.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you survive a suicide attempt, the chances you’ll die by suicide in the future are drastically reduced. About 90 percent of people who live after a suicide attempt eventually die, not by suicide, but by some other means.

So if suicide is really an act born out of desperation, hopelessness and ready means, couldn’t it be possible to try and address it not only by attacking the mood, but also be addressing the availability of the means?

That’s the premise of the article in The New York Times by Celia Watson Seupel that examines how we might be more effective in our battle against suicide by doing more to address the means available to those who try:

Instead of treating individual risk, means restriction entails modifying the environment by removing the means by which people usually die by suicide. The world cannot be made suicide-proof, of course. But, these researchers argue, if the walkway over a bridge is fenced off, a struggling college freshman cannot throw herself over the side. If parents leave guns in a locked safe, a teenage son cannot shoot himself if he suddenly decides life is hopeless.

With the focus on who dies by suicide, these experts say, not enough attention has been paid to restricting the means to do it — particularly access to guns. […]

If the people who died had not had easy access to lethal means, researchers like Dr. Miller reason, most would still be alive.

The public has long held the opposite perception. […]

“People think of suicide in this linear way, as if you get more and more depressed and go on to create a more specific plan,” Ms. Barber said.

In fact, suicide is often a convergence of factors leading to a sudden, tragic event. In one study of people who survived a suicide attempt, almost half reported that the whole process, from the first suicidal thought to the final act, took 10 minutes or less.

That is precisely why we’ve always advocated for the installation of suicide barriers on bridges where suicides are commonplace, such as the Golden Gate Bridge. People seem less likely to travel to a lesser bridge in the same geographic region in order to engage in the suicidal behavior.

Yes, it may not seem to make sense, but a person in the throes of suicidal thoughts aren’t always known for thinking rationally.

Locking up your handguns and rifles is both common sense and Gun Safety 101. Every responsible gun owner has been taught this and does this (or should know to do this). Yet guns are still too readily available to those who use such access to end their own lives on an impulsive gesture:

Statistically, having a gun in the home increases the probability of suicide for all age groups. If the gun is unloaded and locked away, the risk is reduced. If there is no gun in the house at all, the suicide risk goes down even further.

Guns are the most common way to try and engage in suicidal behavior in the U.S.1 Seeing as it’s also the most lethal way of attempting suicide, how is it that we aren’t doing more to try and responsibly reduce access to this common method to those at risk?

In order to make a dent in the rate of suicide, we must attack the problem from every angle. While focusing on people at risk for suicide makes public health sense, we must also acknowledge the positive impact of making means more inaccessible.

What seems like a ridiculously easy barrier to most of us (in our safe, rational minds) may just be the few minutes that someone contemplating suicide needs to make the decision to live another day.


Read the article: Blocking the Paths to Suicide

Would it Help to Restrict the Means to Suicide?


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John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Would it Help to Restrict the Means to Suicide?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 12 Mar 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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