Counseling parents on safe storage of guns and medications may help prevent youth suicide

Many people who attempt suicide do so with little planning during a short-term crisis, according to researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The School’s Harvard Injury Control Research Center has found that “means reduction”—reducing a suicidal person’s access to the most lethal methods, particularly firearms—can play an important role in preventing deaths.

In a new study, Harvard Chan School researchers and colleagues from Northeastern University, Colorado School of Public Health, and the University of Colorado School of Medicine looked at whether parents or other caregivers of at-risk adolescents would adopt safer gun and medication storage practices after receiving counseling on means reduction.

The study, conducted over two years in seven Colorado hospitals, included 575 caregivers of children ages 10 to 17 who had been to an emergency room for a suicide attempt or other behavioral health concern. Clinicians received a training program prior to the intervention, and were also provided with firearm and medication locks that they could distribute to caregivers for free.

After the start of the intervention, the number of caregivers counseled on safe storage more than doubled (to 57% for firearms and 80% for medication). During this period, the number of parents who reported improving their storage practices also more than doubled (to 22% for firearms and 45% for medication).

The study was published April 16, 2020 in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Harvard Chan School authors included Matthew Miller, Catherine Barber, Deborah Azrael, and John Berrigan.