Reduce Access Reduce Suicides

Think about it: research shows it takes just 5-10 minutes from contemplation to the actual attempt of death by suicide. There are two imperatives to preventing suicide: 1) follow the CDC’s guide to improve your quality of life; (2) and/or put time and distance between the thought of suicide and acting on it. We’re going to focus on the latter.

Safely storing medications and firearms can be a lifesaving measure by mitigating sudden suicidal ideations. The following stats show the difference safety storage precautions can make. Use of a firearm occurred in 64.3% of Active-duty, 75.3% of Reserve, and 79.8% of National Guard deaths by suicide in 2020 according to the Department of Defense Annual Suicide Report. According to the American Public Health Association, storing firearms and ammunition safely reduces the risk of suicide by 55% to 73% 1.

Safely storing firearms and minimizing substances that heighten impulsiveness, such as alcohol, can drastically change a suicide outcome. Drug and/or alcohol overdose was the most common method of attempted suicide in DoDSER forms, accounting for 53% of reported CY19 suicide attempts. (DoDSER 2020). Policies such as packaging individual pills has reduced the risk of medication overdose.

How can you ensure the safe storage of medication and firearms?

Here are some things everyone can do:

  • Use gun locks. 
  • Store firearms unloaded in a safe.
  • Store ammunition in a separate locked container.
  • Never keep lethal doses of any medication on hand. Work with your doctor and pharmacist to make sure you have a safe dosage in your home.
  • Consider keeping medications locked in a safe place.
  • Properly dispose of medications you no longer need.
  • Research ways to safely store medication and firearms by contacting your pharmacist, the Military and Family Life Counseling, Suicide Prevention personnel, ask a friend, or go online.
  • Use available websites and resources such as The Veterans Administration’s Safe Firearms Storage toolkit to obtain information and help prevention.

Here are some things Leaders can do:

  • Provide training on lethal means such as safely storing medication and firearms by routinely communicating best practices and giving examples on how to reduce access. Review/implement new Army Suicide Prevention policies in accordance with the Vice Chief of Staff-initiated chain teach. 
  • Coordinate with Behavioral Health and Suicide Prevention personnel to provide education on safe storage of medication and firearms.
  • Coordinate with Behavioral Health personnel, Army Substance Abuse Program, and use sources such as Own Your Limits to educate Soldiers during safety briefings on responsible drinking.
  • Consulting with Behavioral Health personnel along with understanding behavioral health policy AR 600-63 Army Health Promotion can help with identifying/reducing risks and coordinating care requirements.

Let's take precautions and restrict access to lethal means. Together, we can protect our Army Family.

Additional Resources:

1 Reducing Suicides by Firearms