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What Can Be Done to Reduce Suicide Deaths?

This post is part two of a five-part series by Nancy Lee exploring how social marketing strategies can reduce gun violence in America. Nancy Lee is a strategic advisor to C+C and one of the world’s leading authorities on social marketing.

Content Warning: This post addresses the topics of suicide and gun violence. These subjects can be distressing for some readers and we encourage you to prioritize your mental well-being when choosing whether or not to proceed with reading this content. If you or someone you know is struggling, please consider reaching out to a mental health professional, a support hotline, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or by dialing 988, the new three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

This is my second of five anticipated blogs related to reducing gun deaths and injuries, a public health crisis. As noted in my blog in November, a research journey this past year led me to four areas of focus for Social Marketing efforts:

  • Suicide Interventions
  • Storage
  • See Something. Say Something.
  • Social Equity

This month’s blog elaborates on the issue of gun suicide deaths. There are disturbing facts that substantiate a focus on gun suicide deaths as one of these top four:

  • 61% of gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides.
  • Approximately 90% of suicide attempts involving a gun end in death.
  • On average, more than 60 people a day die from firearm suicide.

Further, there are facts that create a priority for this blog’s focus on youth suicide:

  • Gun injuries are the leading cause of death for children and teens since 2020.
  • On average, 3 youth/children die every day by firearm suicide.

I’ll share two case examples from the book noted below, highlighting impactful Social Marketing efforts to reduce youth/children gun suicides.

Reaching Out to Someone Who Seems Suicidal

CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System reported in 2019 that, similar to statistics in the past, almost 19% of high school youth have considered attempting suicide in the last year; more than 15% have a plan for how they would attempt suicide; and 9% actually attempted suicide.

In 2017, the Washington State Department of Health worked with C+C to create and launch a youth suicide prevention campaign Start a Convo, Save a Life, intended to influence high school youth who have a friend who seems depressed, hopeless, or unusually angry to reach out and have a conversation about whether they were thinking about suicide. To address concerns, the campaign stressed that “it is okay, even necessary, to start that conversation.” And that “this courageous act can save the life of their friend.” Promotional strategies focused on sharing real stories from youth who had helped save the life of a suicidal friend, and an app to facilitate conversations. Communication channels have included social media, and posters and special events at schools.

Campaign metrics indicated high click through rates on social media, and that the mobile display campaign delivered 3.2 million impressions.

Medical Providers Conducting Screenings

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) highlights that over 80% of child/youth firearm suicides involved a gun belonging to a family member. Not surprisingly, AAP efforts prioritize influencing pediatricians with patients 12 and older to conduct universal screenings. And when findings indicate the patient is at risk for suicide, next steps include having discussion with family members regarding safe gun storage, providing tools and resources to facilitate that discussion process.

A clinical trial found that parents who received the SafetyCheck intervention doubled the odds of safe firearm storage compared to the control group. And the program was then branded S.A.F.E. Firearm (Suicide and Accident Prevention through Family Education).

References and more detail such as years and source for these statistics can be found in my book, Reducing Gun Deaths & Injuries: A Social Marketing Approach, Ethics International Press, 2023. If you’re interested in purchasing a paperback copy, select “Paperback” and for a 15% discount, enter this code: 42663576207413.