Lethal Means Safety Is Key To Suicide Prevention > Wright-Patterson AFB > Article View



Every suicide death is a disturbing tragedy, and the Department of Defense is taking a comprehensive public health approach to saving lives through widespread education and evidence-based prevention practices in the face of one of the health crises. most vexatious public statements in the military – and the country. .




There is no simple reason why anyone, including a member of the military, commits suicide. Like civilians, service members and their families are not immune to the daily challenges of life, and there is no single solution to preventing suicide.


DOD recognizes the complex interplay of risk and protective factors and takes a cluster approach to prevention that focuses on reducing the risk of suicide for service members and their families. Service-related challenges can play a role in the situation of service members and their families – exposure to the battlefield can lead to traumatic injuries or worsen stressors, for example.


But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The complexity extends to social and environmental factors: relationship and financial difficulties, substance abuse or legal issues can also contribute to a downward spiral and suicidal thoughts.


The emphasis on safety from lethal means is one of the centerpieces of DOD’s suicide prevention efforts. Lethal means are objects (eg, guns, drugs, sharp objects) that can be used to engage in suicidal behavior. Security measures that secure lethal means include secure storage options such as cable locks, locked safes, and locked medicine boxes. Safe storage of lethal means is an evidence-based component of a comprehensive suicide prevention strategy; it also includes safe drug prescribing practices and safety tips to reduce the risk of suicide by limiting access to all lethal means.


The DOD’s “Annual Suicide Report” for 2020 showed that firearms were the primary method of suicide for service members (approximately 70% DOD-wide) and for more than half of our family members. military.


Research tells us that while owning a firearm does not make someone suicidal, storing a loaded firearm in the home increases the risk of suicide for everyone in that household. Likewise, our data show us that drugs are the primary method of attempted suicide. This is one of the primary reasons DOD education and communications emphasize safe storage, personal firearms, and medications.


The prolonged stress and stigma associated with seeking help and support can also characterize certain aspects of military family life. At the same time, the DOD and national research indicate that protective factors — such as social connections and feelings of belonging — are buffers against suicide risk.




Traditional military culture and its emphasis on self-reliance also plays a role; prevailing attitudes often prevent service members and their families from getting help for mental health issues or other life challenges. Although receding, stigma can still reinforce a service member’s tendency to deal with challenges internally; fear of negative career impacts is a concern.


Consider these statistics:


  • Suicide was among the top 10 causes of death for Americans aged 10 to 64.
  • It is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • According to the DOD’s 2020 “Suicide Annual Report”, the suicide rate increased statistically between calendar years 2015 and 2020 – from 20.3 to 28.7 suicides per 100,000 among active service members.


Research also confirms the powerful and safety mitigating effects of lethal means. Adding safe storage practices to lethal means, such as firearms and drugs, is an effective way to reduce suicide and keep people safe.


Research also shows that it can take less than 10 minutes from thinking about suicide to taking action. For many people, suicidal thoughts and the desire to end one’s life come on quickly and intensely. But these thoughts also tend to fade and lessen in intensity just as quickly. Safe storage practices increase the time it takes for someone with suicidal thoughts to access a deadly item.


During this critical period, the desire to die may decline. The person may be reminded of their reasons for living, or someone else may be able to intervene, allowing them to save a life. Nonetheless, the DOD’s goal is to add measures that incorporate additional safeguards between a person at risk of suicide and a method of suicide.


Safe storage of firearms requires:


  • A locking device that creates a barrier against unauthorized access or use.
  • Separation of firearms and ammunition when not in use.
  • Storage in a secure, locked box.


Cable locks, for example, prevent a firearm from being loaded and fired; a gun case provides secure and concealed storage of firearms. Full-size gun safes are equally useful for reliable protection.


To avoid an overdose, medications such as opioids should be kept locked up; Medicine safes are available at most pharmacies. Every second counts in suicide prevention, giving someone an extra moment to change their mind.




To prevent gun-related suicide, DOD takes a multi-pronged approach, working with military leaders at all levels, military communities, military/veteran service organizations, and gun retailers to raise awareness of safe storage options at home. The DOD’s efforts also align with those of the Department of Veterans Affairs in lethal means security for veterans and service members.


Safe storage options are effective in preventing suicides and protecting others from home accidents. If not for yourself, practice safe storage so that others cannot easily access your firearm without your knowledge. Unload it, lock it and/or store it. Bottom line: stop, lock and live.


The individual can also provide assistance, particularly in the event of a crisis. If someone you know is feeling overwhelmed or having suicidal thoughts, check them out and don’t be afraid to ask if they have access to lethal means. If the answer is yes, ask if you can safely store these lethal means for a hard time. Putting time and distance between a person who feels overwhelmed and a method of suicide can save a life.


A person at risk may not ask for help, but reaching out to offer support can make a difference. Service members and veterans who are in crisis or having suicidal thoughts or those who know a service member or veteran in crisis can call the Veteran/Military Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. , 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1; send an SMS to 838255; or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.


Suicide is a public health issue and scientific research indicates that certain types of reporting can have a negative impact on vulnerable people. Journalists covering this topic can visit ReportingOnSuicide.org for resources on suicide reporting.