Lethal Means Safety & Suicide Prevention - Facts that Matter - MIRECC / CoE
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Lethal Means Safety & Suicide Prevention - Facts that Matter

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Veteran Suicide Epidemiology

  • 68% of male and 41% of female Veteran suicides were firearm-related**
  • 10% of male and 32% of female Veteran suicides were due to intentional poisoning**

Graph demonstrates that Veterans, both male and female, are much more likely to die by a fire arm in a suicide death

** - 2014 VHA Data

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Lethality of Suicide Attempts by Method

  • About 90% of firearm-related suicide attempts are fatal, as compared to approximately 5% of suicide attempts by all other mechanisms combined
    • Most who survive a nonfatal suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide

Graph demonstrates that firearms have a mortality rate of 85-90%, while other means are between 5-10 lethal

Limiting Access to Lethal Means Saves Lives

  • Even the most serious thoughts about suicide are usually brief and temporary.
  • Nonetheless, access to lethal means during these high-risk periods and result in death by suicide.
  • Among 153 survivors of nearly-fatal suicide attempts:
    • 47% said it took less than 1 hour between their decision to attempt suicide and their actual attempt.
    • 24% said it took less than 5 minutes for them to act. (Simon et al. 2001. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 32(1 Suppl):49-59)

For a Veteran in crisis, limiting his or her access to lethal means during a critical period can make all the difference.

Veterans perspectives:

Data from, the 2015 National Firearm Survey show that a majority of US Veterans, including gun owners, agree that it is ‘at least sometimes’ appropriate for clinicians to talk about firearm safety with their patients. (Betz et al. Annals of Intern Med. 2016;165(8))

Graph demonstrates that between 50-68% of people agree it is OK to talk about firearm safety

Intentional Overdose

  • Previous episodes of self-poisoning have been indicated as a strong predictor of subsequent death by suicide.
  • Researchers have associated an increase in suicide attempt frequency, specifically among females, with the accessibility of opioid medications.
  • In 1998 after the United Kingdom introduced legislation restricting pack sizes of acetaminophen a significant reduction in deaths due to acetaminophen overdose were noted during the 11 years following legislation, indicating a promising suicide prevention strategy.
  • Blister packaging of medications has also been examined by researchers, this medication delivery approach requires greater effort by individuals during a suicide attempt allowing more time to reconsider, which may have implications for suicide prevention efforts.


  • Suicide prevention efforts aimed at restricting access to suicide hotspots by installation of physical barriers has proven to be an effective intervention associated with decreases in yearly suicide rates.

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