Means Safety

Means Safety

In a suicide crisis, the length of time someone seriously contemplates suicide, tends to be short-lived. Research indicates that amongst suicide survivors, nearly 50% reported making the decision to attempt minutes prior to the attempt (Source – Means Matter, Harvard School of Public Health). A Houston study found that 24% of those decisions were made in less than 5 minutes. A Deisenhammer study found that 48% said within 10 minutes of making the attempt. That kind of impulsivity, coupled with substance use, can be lethal. Most people who think about suicide do not want to die. They just want to end their pain.  When suicidal behaviors are detected early and one can restrict access to firearms during that time of crisis, we can save lives.

An important piece of any suicide prevention program is reducing access to lethal means or “means safety.” This refers to making an effort to limit or eliminate the ability for a person at risk of suicide to access the means for their suicide plan.

Firearms are the most lethal and most common method of suicide in the U.S.  In South Dakota, firearms are used in 50% of all suicides (South Dakota Suicide Surveillance Report, SD DOH 2022).  Suicide attempts with a firearm are almost always fatal, while those by other methods are less likely to be fatal. Another important fact is that nine out of ten people who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide later.

Many suicide attempts are made impulsively during a short-term crisis period. If highly lethal means are made less available to impulsive attempters and they substitute less lethal means, or temporarily postpone their attempt, the odds are increased that they will survive. Studies in a variety of countries have indicated that when access to lethal means is reduced, both the means-specific suicide rate and, very often, the overall suicide rate decline.

(Information obtained from Harvard Injury Research Center’s Means Matter program.  Visit for more information)

The resources provided below provide information on firearm safety and reducing assess to lethal means.

Video by: The Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Other forms of means safety include:

  • Improvements in the use of catalytic converters in motor vehicles
  • Restrictions on pesticides
  • Reduce lethality or toxicity of prescription
    • Use of lower toxicity antidepressants
    • Change packaging of medications to blister packs
    • Restrict sales of lethal hypnotics (i.e. Barbiturates)

From Mann, J. J., Apter, A., Bertolote, J., Beautrais, A., Currier, D., et. al., (2005). Suicide prevention strategies: A systematic review. Journal of the American Medical Association 294 (16), 2064-2074.

Reducing access to alcohol is also an important component of means safety, given that alcohol is a factor in about one-fourth of suicide deaths (IOM 2002). Educating individuals and families about the dangers of alcohol in relation to suicide risk can be an effective intervention. Persons should also be educated about the potential for alcohol to amplify the negative effects of other substances, including prescription medications.

South Dakota specific information is available below:

How to Safeguard Your Home: The Helpline Center has put together this brochure as a guide to suicide prevention in the home.  Order printed materials from the Helpline Center’s website.