Are you concerned that someone at home is at risk of suicide – a depressed teen, a 20-something going through a break-up, an adult with a financial or family crisis, or someone with a mental health or substance abuse problem? While there is no way to remove all risks from your home, you can make it suicide safer by talking to your loved ones and securing access to things that are lethal.
Among people who nearly died in a suicide attempt, 24% said less than 5 minutes had elapsed between deciding on suicide and making the attempt. Not having lethal means closely at hand is similar to keeping the keys to the car away from a person who has been drinking; it reduces bad outcomes in high-stress situations.
Below are steps identified by the organization Texas Suicide Prevention, to make your home safer for someone in mental distress.
Medications and Alcohol:
Suicide attempts involving prescription medications and other drugs have jumped drastically in the past few years, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Alcohol is also involved in a high percentage of emergency room (ER) visits for medication-related suicide attempts. Medications are by far the most common method of nonfatal suicide attempt for all ages and sexes. Teens who attempt suicide use medications more often than any other method.
Steps to take:
- Do not keep lethal doses of medications on hand. Speak to your local pharmacist for advice on safe quantities. Be sure to discuss all medications – both prescription and over the counter.
- 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. Some over the counter drugs (such as Tylenol) can also be lethal in quantity. In a suicide-safer home, all medications (prescribed and over the counter) should be secured.
- Dispose of medications that are outdated or that you no longer need. Why keep medications you no longer use – especially if there is someone at risk for suicide in the home? Many pharmacies will take back your unused or expired medication. Contact your local law enforcement to find out if medication disposal is available in your area, or if an independent pharmacy in your area does not offer a drug take-back program.
- Keep only small quantities of alcohol in the home. Alcohol can greatly increase the lethality of a drug overdose, and it can make a person more likely to make unwise choices such as a suicide attempt.
There are 20,000 gun suicides in the U.S. every year, more than 50 every single day. The firearm suicide rate has increased more than 13 percent between 2007 and 2013. 85% to 91% of firearm suicide attempts are fatal.
Steps to take:
- The safest way to reduce access to a firearm is to secure your guns outside the home. One option is to ask a trusted friend or relative to hold on to your firearms temporarily. Create a letter of agreement between you and the friend or relative that clarifies that the firearms are being held on a temporary basis only, lists the type/s of firearm and serial numbers, and clarifies the circumstances under which it will be returned. Another option would be to pawn your guns for a small loan amount (e.g. $100); and repay the loan and interests due when you retrieve the gun. Also, some storage facilities allow unloaded guns to be stored as well.
- In the home, lock unloaded firearms securely and separately from ammunition. Your local gun shop or sporting good store can help you choose the type of lock and/or gun safe that meets your level of security needs, safety needs of the person at risk, and your budget. The keys to the safe should always be secured and NOT kept on top of the safe or in any other obvious place.
When someone is at an increased risk for suicide, they need increased support from family and friends. Many survivors of suicide attempts say that when they are feeling suicidal, they see themselves as a burden to friends and family. Ongoing expressions of care and concern are vital.
Steps to take:
- Listen non-judgmentally
- Be a caring presence
- Inquire about their well-being
- Ask what type of support would be most helpful
- Encourage involvement in activities the person enjoys
- Ask the question, “Are you feeling so badly you are considering suicide?” Seek more information and know how to refer them to help, if they say “yes.”
If you or a loved one is considering self-harm, EFR is here to listen! Please visit the Employee Portal to access your EAP’s counseling benefit. For immediate assistance, call our 24/7 help hotline at 1-800-327-4692.