An impressive and overwhelming website has just come to my attention. I’d like to share it with you. It’s impressive because it contains so much information, which is what makes it overwhelming. It’s called Means Matter, and it’s Harvard’s attempt to reduce suicide. I’m sure we would all love to reduce suicide, and the pain and suffering that precedes it. But most of us would assume the way to do so would be to offer counseling in time of need, a shoulder for a friend to cry on, or perhaps a more broad based education and counseling program. Means Matter attempts to reduce suicide by reducing the success rate of attempts. If that sounds like an odd approach, consider this:
Prevent the death, and give the attempter another go at resolving the pain and achieving a contented life. Yes, I do think it would be preferable to eliminate, or at least decrease, the depression and pain that bring people to consider suicide in the first place. And I think we should continue working toward that goal, but that is a long term commitment. Spending some time and energy on decreasing the means might increase our collective success.
Means Matter is chock full of information aimed at helping us all help each other. I think it does a great public service. But looking at the website is a bit daunting. I’d like to highlight some key points here to get you warmed up. Then hopefully as you have time, you can dig into it more yourself.
Before I continue, let me be clear. I am in no way trying to downplay the pain and suffering that some people are feeling. What I am trying to do is to highlight a public health approach at reducing suicide. As individuals, health care provider or not, I hope that we are sensitive enough to our friends and family to know when they are suffering, and that we respond accordingly to that suffering. But if we, as a society, get clear on the dangers we accidentally expose our loved ones to, I think we do ourselves a great service.
If it’s true that most attempters deliberated for less than a day, and many for only hours or minutes, then it’s easy to see how easily accessible means would be an essential component of suicide. Have the thought, realize you have the means, done. Over. If the means hadn’t been so available, would the result have been different?
Not my child
Tragically, parents may have no idea their child is suffering. Fortunately, according to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide rates are lowest among young people: in 2014, the rate for 15-24 year olds was 11.6 (the highest rate – 19.3 – was found in those over 85 years of age). Those statistics don’t matter, however, if it’s your child who is lost.
You’ve heard the advice over and over again: talk to your kids! But adolescents are notoriously hard to talk to, and little kids don’t even have the words to express this suffering. So yes, talk to your kids, listen to your kids, watch your kids, be involved. All of that. But don’t rely on that alone. Even if you think your child is the picture of happiness. Remember – kids are great deceivers. Remember that your child’s friends come to your house too.
Remove firearms from your home. If that’s not an option, lock up, disarm, and hide your guns. Lock up and hide your medications. Don’t keep lethal doses of medications in the home (talk to your pharmacist about this, and remember to consider the combination of all of your medications, as well as supplements). Lock up alcohol, and limit the total amount in the house. You can find these recommendations and more here.
Also, remember that it’s not just your house. Your child goes to the homes of friends and family. Ask the tough questions of anyone hosting your child.
So, check out Means Matter when you have some time. You never know whose life you might save.