One of the myths of suicide is that if a person wants to kill themselves, they’ll always find a way. While this can occur in some cases, evidence that making methods of self-harm less accessible can reduce the suicide rate suggests that deaths can be prevented with simple safety measures.
The New York Times has a thought-provoking article on exactly this topic looking at how, particularly impulsive suicides, can be prevented.
What makes looking at jumping suicides potentially instructive is that it is a method associated with a very high degree of impulsivity, and its victims often display few of the classic warning signs associated with suicidal behavior. In fact, jumpers have a lower history of prior suicide attempts, diagnosed mental illness (with the exception of schizophrenia) or drug and alcohol abuse than is found among those who die by less lethal methods, like taking pills or poison. Instead, many who choose this method seem to be drawn by a set of environmental cues that, together, offer three crucial ingredients: ease, speed and the certainty of death.
The NYT article focuses on jumping and firearms and how erecting barriers and storing guns in locked boxes are effective preventative measures.
However, if you want a flavour of really how simple the safety measures need to be to make a difference to suicide rate, research has found that putting pills in blister packs reduces lethal overdoses.
It’s amazing if you think about it, simply making it necessary to pop each pill out of its plastic packaging rather than tipping them out of a bottle means less people kill themselves.
The difference is likely a matter of minutes, but it gives time for brief impulsive urges to pass, and every popped pill requires a single deliberate action towards suicide that gives a chance for the distressed person to reconsider. Obviously, many do.
The article merits a read in full, and Liz Spikol has an interesting video commentary on the piece that’s also well-worth checking out.