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September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

By Penny Okamoto, Executive Director of Ceasefire Oregon

Suicide can be prevented. 

If you are having thoughts of suicide, help is available 24 hours a day: 

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 

text 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.

Firearms are used in more than 80% of all suicides in Oregon. According to a March 2021 report in The Washington Post, an estimated 24,000 people in the United States died by suicide with a gun in 2020 alone.

Restricting access to firearms or removing all firearms from your home greatly reduces the risk that someone in your home will use a firearm for suicide. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by an increase in firearm purchases. Fewer gun owners, both new and experienced, are failing to securely store their firearms. (Kravitz-Wirtz, et al., Stanford Medicine, 2021)

Access to firearms increases the risk of suicide

A 2020 report published by Stanford Medicine found that men who owned handguns were eight times more likely than men who didn’t to die of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Women who owned handguns were more than 35 times more likely than women who didn’t to kill themselves with a gun.

Suicides can occur soon after a gun purchase or much later

In the same report, Matthew Miller, professor of health sciences and epidemiology at Northeastern University, wrote. “New handgun buyers had extremely high risks of dying by firearm suicide immediately after the purchase. However, more than half of all firearm suicides in this group occurred a year or more later. Consistent with prior work, our findings indicate that gun access poses a substantial and enduring risk.” 

Guns are far more lethal than other methods of suicide 

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death for all ages in the United States. Among those who attempt suicide, an estimated 96% fail. However, among those who attempt suicide with a firearm, 82.5% die. The rate of lethality in firearm-suicide is much higher than methods such as taking poisons or cutting that have case fatality rates of 1.5% and 1.2%, respectively. Despite being one of the least used methods to attempt suicide, firearms account for more than half of completed suicides. (GVPedia Fact Sheet)

The best way to reduce suicide risk is to remove firearms from the home

Research shows that secure storage of guns reduces suicide risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 85-90% of suicide attempts with a firearm are fatal. 

Secure storage means storing all of your guns unloaded and secured, such as locked with a cable or trigger lock or in a gun safe. The best way to help protect a person in distress is to temporarily remove all lethal means, including firearms, from the home until the person is no longer in a state of crisis. Options for temporarily storing your guns outside your home vary by state and community.

Preventing access to firearms greatly reduces the risk of suicide but the inequities in communities of racial/ethnic minority groups must be addressed as well. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center provides resources on their website:

Prevention Paradigm for Native Americans

“It’s time to change the paradigm when working with Native people,” says Doreen Bird, a public health professional and Native American. “We need to focus on the strengths of Native Americans and what has made them resilient. And, we must involve Native people when developing suicide prevention programs in their communities.” Bird continued, “This will empower the community and make the programs and services a whole lot better at reducing suicide.”

Showing compassion, accepting cultures: Preventing suicide in the Latino Community

Latina teens in the United States have had higher rates of suicide attempts than Caucasian teens and Latino boys for the past 20 years, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey administered to kids age 10 to 24 by the CDC every other year.

Black Lives Matter in Suicide Prevention

In recent weeks, we’ve seen painful reminders of the racism and violence that Black Americans and other communities of color experience on a daily basis. In addition to joining the outcry against these injustices, this moment calls for those of us in suicide prevention to critically examine how White privilege has shaped our work and to make bold moves toward equity and inclusion in our field.

Culturally Competent Care for LGBTQ Youth

Why are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers? The Trevor Project’s Ashby Dodge examines some of the reasons why in a compelling talk presented by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Without pointing fingers, she acknowledges that we don’t really understand this population well and calls on mental health professionals to provide more appropriate care to LGBTQ youth.

Military Service Members and Veterans

Suicide is a critical  problem affecting military service members and veterans. The military services include an Active Component (Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy) and a Reserve Component. Estimates from the U.S. Department of Defense suggest that although suicide rates vary across these groups, they remain higher than they were in 2003.