One way that you can play a role in working to reduce suicide in Arizona is by learning contemporary facts from trusted sources and taking simple safety precautions.
Research shows that access to a firearm in the home increases the risk of suicide death by 300%.– Andrew Anglemyer, Ph.D., Tara Horvath, M.A., George Rutherford, M.D. The Annals of Internal Medicine, January 21, 2014
Reducing a person’s access to firearms to reduce suicide is a non-partisan public health issue – and is not to be confused with other initiatives, programs or policies that seek to regulate or restrict firearm access.
To differentiate between other programs and Arizona’s public health effort to reduce suicide among our state’s service members and veterans, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, The NARBHA Institute, the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, the Arizona Coalition for Military Families and Be Connected created a movement called ‘Secure Your Weapon.’ The sole mission of the program is to save lives by reducing suicides involving firearms among service members and veterans.
In Arizona, we have more than 500,000 service members, veterans, and their family members. A recent report from the Arizona Department of Health Services looked at suicide and self-inflicted injury for the ten-year period of 2008 to 2018. The report found:
“The rate of suicide among Arizona resident veterans, when compared to the rate among Arizona resident non-veterans, also demonstrates a sustained pattern of elevated risk. In 2018, the age adjusted rate of suicide among Arizona resident veterans was 2.3 times higher than their non-veteran counterparts.”
– Arizona Department of Health Services, Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury in Arizona, 2008 – 2018
To achieve its mission, Secure Your Weapon encourages veterans to get involved in the movement by remembering the high standards for weapon safety demanded during their military service, practicing those standards, and teaching others the basics of properly carrying, transporting, and storing firearms.
According to the Harvard University School of Public Health ‘Means Matter’ website:
- Firearms are the most lethal and most common method of suicide in the U.S.
- More people who die by suicide use a firearm than all other methods combined.
- Suicide attempts with a firearm are almost always fatal, while those with other methods are less likely to kill.
- Nine out of ten people who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide later.
- Every U.S. study that has examined the relationship has found that access to firearms is a risk factor for suicides.
- Many suicide attempts are made with little planning during a short-term crisis period.
- Firearms used in youth suicide usually belong to a parent. Reducing access to lethal means saves lives.
- 71% of suicidal deliberation occurs within 1 hour or less.
Suicidal intent is a complex matter that falls along a continuum and relates to the availability of the means and the attempter’s knowledge of the method. Controlling access to the most lethal means of suicide, firearms, means that for those who have a lower intent, or only a fleeting moment of high intent, we have a better chance of saving their life.
If a firearm is made less available to impulsive suicide attempters, they tend to substitute a less lethal means, or temporarily postpone their attempt. This not only increases the odds that they will survive, but it also allows people like us, who care and can offer support, to become involved and connect the attempter to resources, benefits, and solutions to the issues they are facing.
We, as Arizonans and people who support our service members, veterans, and their families, have an important role to play in helping reduce the rate of suicide in Arizona.
Actions You Can Take During Suicide Prevention Month
- Program 866-4AZ-VETS (866-429-8387) into your phone and click here to receive free wallet cards you can share in your circle that include information on where to access support services, benefits and educational, financial, housing, employment, food, and other resources exclusively reserved for military families, veterans and anyone who is serving our country.
- Reduce access to firearms in your home. Get a free cable gun lock, no questions asked, at www.ConnectVeterans.org/Lock. (Available to Arizona service members, veterans and their family members while supplies last).
- Avoid keeping lethal doses of medications in your home and dispose of unwanted prescriptions responsibly at a retail dropbox.
Together, we can reduce suicide among Arizona’s service members, veterans, and their family members.
To learn more about Secure Your Weapon, visit www.ConnectVeterans.org/SecureYourWeapon and read an article by Jon Perez, that provides the story of how Secure Your Weapon began.
Kelli Donley Williams, M.P.H.
About the Author
Before joining the Maricopa Association of Government, Kelli Donley Williams served as the state suicide prevention specialist at the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS). She was instrumental in leading the initiative to expand the provision of behavioral health services in schools across the state. From 2003 to 2008, Kelli worked in international health implementing health programming for women and children in Bolivia, Mexico, Mozambique, and Nicaragua. She serves on the Boards for United Food Bank and the Arizona Public Health Association. Kelli has worked in public health for more than 19 years.