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Mental Health Experts Seek to Block the Paths to Suicide

Accepted submission by Hugh Pickens at 2015-03-10 15:20:14
Experts and laymen have long assumed that people who died by suicide will ultimately do it even if temporarily deterred. Now Celia Watson Seupel reports at the NYT that a growing body of evidence challenges this view with many experts calling for a reconsideration of suicide-prevention strategies stressing “means restriction.” Instead of treating individual risk, means restriction entails modifying the environment by removing the means by which people usually die by suicide []. The world cannot be made suicide-proof, of course. But, these researchers argue, if the walkway over a bridge is fenced off, a struggling college freshman cannot throw herself over the side. If parents leave guns in a locked safe, a teenage son cannot shoot himself if he suddenly decides life is hopeless.

Reducing the availability of highly lethal and commonly used suicide methods has been associated with declines in suicide rates of as much as 30%–50% in other countries (PDF) []. According to Cathy Barber, people trying to die by suicide tend to choose not the most effective method, but the one most at hand. Some methods have a case fatality rate as low as 1 or 2 percent,” says Barber. “With a gun, it’s closer to 85 or 90 percent. So it makes a difference what you’re reaching for in these low-planned or unplanned suicide attempts.” Ken Baldwin, who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in 1985 and lived, told reporters that he knew as soon as he had jumped that he had made a terrible mistake []. "From the instant I saw my hand leave the railing, I knew I wanted to live. I was terrified out of my skull." Baldwin was lucky to survive the 220 foot plunge into frigid waters. Ms. Barber tells another story: On a friend’s very first day as an emergency room physician, a patient was wheeled in, a young man who had shot himself in a suicide attempt. “He was begging the doctors to save him,” she says. But they could not.

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