News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

How to save a life

Across the U.S., 60 percent of firearm deaths are suicides. In Oregon, 81 percent of firearm deaths are from suicide. More than half of the individuals in Oregon who take their lives use a firearm (with a 10 percent survival rate, firearms are extremely lethal).

  • In 2019, there were 466 firearm suicide deaths in Oregon, including 19 children and teens.
  • A disproportionate number of firearm suicide deaths occur in rural communities.
  • Among male military veterans, three of four who died used a firearm to take their lives.
  • Seventy-seven percent of firearm suicides involve use of a handgun.

A 2020 review of suicide deaths in Deschutes County, 2000 to 2017:

“The majority of suicide deaths…occur in the home, and over 50 percent of suicides are completed by firearm and 20 percent by poisoning. Suicidal impulses are relatively brief; approximately half of all individuals that attempt suicide report that the time between suicidal thoughts and acting on those thoughts was 10 minutes or less.

“Suicide can be avoided if someone does not have an easy way to act on suicidal impulses during their most vulnerable moments—safe storage, such as prescription lock boxes or gun safes, is key to helping prevent suicide.”

Top 10 things we’ve learned from research — American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP):

  1. Suicide is related to brain functions that affect decision-making and behavioral control, making it difficult for people to find positive solutions.
  2. Limiting a person’s access to methods of killing themselves dramatically decreases suicide rates in communities.
  3. Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have an underlying — and potentially treatable — mental health condition.
  4. Depression, bipolar disorder, and substance use are strongly linked to suicidal thinking and behavior.
  5. Specific treatments used by mental health professionals — such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy-SP and Dialectical Behavior Therapy — have been proven to help people manage their suicidal ideation and behavior.
  6. No one takes their life for a single reason.

    Life stresses combined with known risk factors, such as childhood trauma, substance use — or even chronic physical pain — can contribute to someone taking their life.

  7. Asking someone directly if they’re thinking about suicide won’t “put the idea in their head” — most will be relieved someone starts a conversation.
  8. Certain medications used to treat depression or stabilize mood have been proven to help people reduce suicidal thoughts and behavior.
  9. If someone can get through the intense, and short, moment of active suicidal crisis, chances are they will not die by suicide.
  10. Most people who survive a suicide attempt (85 to 95 percent) go on to engage in life.

If you are the person who is going through a tough time, it may feel risky to give your guns to a friend for safekeeping. It’s a big step, but it is just a temporary step.

Recognize the warning signs. Risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself.
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

Take Action:

  • Ask directly if your friend is thinking about suicide.

    Asking does not put them in danger.

  • Be willing to listen.

    Allow expressions of feelings and accept those feelings.

  • Be non-judgmental.

    Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad.

    Don’t lecture on the value of life.

  • Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills, until the crisis passes.
  • Check in with your friend regularly.

    Schedule times to talk in the next week so you can see how they are doing.

  • You don’t have to do this alone.

    Get help from other friends, family members, clergy, doctors, and the Lifeline [988].

  • Encourage (and offer to accompany) your friend to seek help and support from a crisis specialist, therapist, doctor, and/or clergy member [if actively suicidal, take them to an emergency room].

If you or someone you love is struggling with thoughts of suicide, help is a phone call or click away:


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