Tag Archives: lethal means safety

Summer Safety: Suicide Prevention During the 101 Critical Days of Summer

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The 101 Critical Days of Summer are always a time to focus on safety – responsible drinking, boating safety, swimming safety and more – but suicide prevention efforts aren’t always included as a focus. The causes of suicide are complex, and while seasonality and weather are not significant risk factors, researchers have observed some associations between warm weather and suicide rates. Additionally, the stresses of military moves and accompanying separation from known support networks can be very difficult during this time of year. For these reasons and more, suicide prevention efforts are an important part of summer safety.

Use caution if drinking and watch out for your shipmates if they choose to drink. Alcohol abuse has been consistently associated with suicidal behavior, according to the National Institutes of Health. Consuming alcohol can lower inhibitions, increase impulsiveness and impair judgement. Alcohol abuse can also lead to social withdrawal, and all of these attributes can lead to greater suicide risk.

Understand how to reduce access to lethal means. Reducing access to lethal means of self-harm is key if a person is at risk of suicide, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Many suicide attempts happen during a short-term crisis, so reducing access to deadly medications or to firearms is important. Always store medications and firearms safely, or remove them from the area completely if you are concerned about those nearby.

Stay connected during times of change. Relationships play an invaluable role in our lives and are one of the Principles of Resilience. During the summer, when people are coming and going as a part of Navy life, it’s easy to feel disconnected. Check in on your friends who have left and reach out to new people in your community. Help create a feeling of belongingness in those around you and for yourself.

Suicide prevention is an all-hands, year-round responsibility. If you think a shipmate is having trouble navigating stress, ACT (Ask, Care, Treat):

  • Ask directly: Are you thinking of killing yourself?
  • Show that you care by listening without judgment and offering hope. Be there.
  • Help your friend connect with a support system immediately. Contact the Military Crisis Line (call 800-273-TALK and Press 1 or text 838255), escort them to the nearest chaplain, provider or leader, or call 911 if danger is imminent. Stay in contact with your friend throughout their treatment to promote a healthy recovery.

The idea that suicides occur more frequently during the holidays is a long-perpetuated myth and one that can be harmful to prevention efforts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2016 study in The Journal of Affective Disorders reviewed 29 science articles from 16 countries and found that suicide attempts were most frequent in spring and summer. Additionally, a 2016 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found positive associations between warmer temperatures and suicide in three East Asian countries, regardless of country, age and gender. More recently, a 2018 study in the International Journal of Biometeorology examined nine major U.S. cities. Researchers found that there was a tendency toward late spring/summer peaks.

The Every Sailor, Every Day campaign has fact sheets, infographics, posters and magnets educating Sailors and families on key Operational Stress Control (OSC) concepts. Visit https://go.usa.gov/xyEBp to download materials, including the Principles of Resilience graphic and Lethal Means Safety graphics, or order them free of charge from the Naval Logistics Library.

Veteran Helps Advance Conversation on Lethal Means Safety

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As veteran Jay Zimmerman notes, a service member’s firearm is “almost like another appendage.” Zimmerman understands military culture and has a love for firearms, stemming from frequent hunting trips with his grandfather while growing up in the Appalachian region. Today he’s advocating for service members and veterans to practice lethal means safety when it comes to firearms and dealing with prolonged stress or psychological health concerns. Lethal means safety–keeping highly-lethal methods of suicide out of reach or less accessible during times of particularly high stress–is an important part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent suicide.

Zimmerman served in multiple combat zones as a former Army medic and his service weapon was essential to his and his comrades’ safety. But after navigating psychological health challenges and losing a good friend and fellow soldier to suicide, he reached a crisis point. His relationship with his wife, with whom he reconnected during the heat of his crisis, drove him toward the decision to seek help. He now champions the impact that taking simple precautions has had on his life, like storing his guns safely so that he can’t make any “rash decisions” when he hits a rough patch. In a recent National Public Radio story, Zimmerman explains that he stores his guns disassembled and separately from ammunition. He’s also made a special arrangement with friends “if things get really bad” so that they can hold onto his weapons until he feels like it’s safe to reclaim them.

For service members, transitions, relationship issues and career or personal setbacks can lead to increased stress and increased suicide risk. In addition to taking the precautions Jay Zimmerman champions, both active and reserve Sailors can work with their commanding officers and health professionals to arrange safe storage of their personal firearms during high-risk periods, per NAVADMIN 263/14.

Zimmerman is now a peer counselor at a local VA medical center and has connected with a meaningful purpose. He travels to speaking engagements and conferences across the country sharing his personal story and encouraging service members and vets to practice lethal means safety when they’re not feeling like themselves. He also coaches therapists and clinical providers on how to productively discuss these precautions with patients.

Zimmerman recognizes the perceptions that may influence a service member’s decision to voluntarily store their personal firearms or practice safety at home (such as using a gun lock). He notes that many are worried that they’ll “lose the gun that [they] carry pretty much all the time” if they opt for voluntary storage. But he emphasizes that this isn’t the case and illustrates how this personal decision can be both empowering and life-saving. His decisions to seek help and protect himself have led to him living a fulfilling life supporting other veterans.

Firearms are the most commonly used means of suicide across military and civilian populations, due in large part to easy access and high-lethality. 1 Small ACT, such as securing your firearm with a gun lock or arranging for temporary safe storage, can save a life. Check out the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s new lethal means safety graphics and posters here. Stay tuned for additional products addressing other ways to practice lethal means safety, such as proper disposal of unused medications.