Hardly a day goes by where we don’t hear about another tragedy in the news involving the death of someone gone too soon. Whether it be from suicide, accidental or intentional gun deaths, or drug overdoses, these losses are all tragic. They can feel unexpected and out of the blue. For those left behind after a loved one dies in this manner, feelings of helplessness, shock, and self-doubt about what they could have done to prevent this can surface quickly. It is so easy to feel like there is nothing we can do to prevent these types of tragedies.
Though ultimately, we can never ensure we will 100% be able to prevent someone from taking their own life or another person’s life, there are some reasonable steps we can take to greatly reduce this risk. By implementing these safety precautions proactively, we can significantly reduce the potential risk of death with our loved ones. Not only that, but with these concrete, actionable steps, you can feel empowered and confident that you are doing all that you can to keep your loved ones safe. If you know, or suspect, that a loved one is struggling with mental health concerns, follow these straightforward steps to increase their safety.
1) Lock up all firearms and store ammunition separately.
Research shows that in the majority of suicides by gunshot, the person obtained the gun from their own home or that of a loved one. If you own any guns, the best way to prevent an accidental or impulsive act of harm with your guns, is to keep them securely locked in a gun safe. Alternatively, at minimum, secure them with a cable gun lock (which can cost as low as $5-$10!). Additionally, it is also important to store ammunition separate from the gun.
If you are a parent, proactively asking the parents of your children’s friends when they visit their home whether they own guns and whether they are locked is a quick way to have peace of mind when they are out of your home.
2) Throw away narcotics and other prescription pain meds when you are finished using them.
It’s not all that uncommon to open your medicine cabinet to find old, outdated prescription pain management prescriptions from past dental work, injuries, or surgeries that you just haven’t gotten around to throwing out. If ever you have a loved one who is experiencing a mental health crisis where they are contemplating suicide, reducing their access to potentially lethal medications can go a long way in reducing their risk of drug overdose. Many police departments, fire stations, and pharmacies accept leftover medications no questions asked.
3) Lock all other potentially lethal medications up in a lockbox.
When a loved one is in crisis and considering acting on thoughts of suicide, an unfortunately all too common method of self-harm is overdose on medications. Some of the most common and most lethal medications to overdose on are often already in your house. These include Tylenol, Benadryl, Advil, Aspirin, Nyquil, Sudafed, Ibuprofen, and Codeine cough syrup. Though it may seem inconvenient to lock up these medications, you can purchase a simple medication lock box at many retailers like Target or Amazon for $10-$20. By eliminating quick and easy access to these medications in a crisis, you can reduce the ability for someone to act impulsively and increase the odds that they reconsider attempting suicide.
4) Keep sharps (knives, razors, scissors, staples) secured.
When dealing with mental health concerns or struggling with reactions to a trauma they have endured, some people may engage in self-harm behavior. One of the common methods of self-harming is by cutting oneself, often on their arms or legs. There is an emotional release of sorts that people can experience when engaging in these cutting behaviors, but as you could imagine, it is a very risky behavior. It can also quickly escalate from superficial cuts to deeper, more dangerous and potentially lethal cutting.
If you are concerned about a loved one you suspect or you know has cut themselves before, by securing anything they may use to cut themselves can reduce the risk of acting on their urges to harm themselves. The most common items to use in self-harm include razors, knives, scissors, staples, or even broken shards of glass.
5) Regularly check in with your loved one about thoughts of suicide.
I have spoken with dozens and dozens of parents over the years who have expressed concerns that their child has seem depressed and they worry about their child taking their own life. It is common for these same parents to worry about asking their child if they are having thoughts of suicide due to fears that they will inadvertently plant these thoughts in their child’s head. Research has shown this concern to be false though. On the contrary, by asking a direct question to your child or teen about whether they are having thoughts of suicide, you are giving them an opening to admit and share any thoughts that they are having. With that information, you can better know how to help them. This also provides your child with the knowledge that you are willing to have these tough conversations and want them to be able to open up to them even when it’s hard or uncomfortable.