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Being One’s Own First Responder: Suicide Prevention

Being One’s Own First Responder: Suicide Prevention

I spoke these words from the main stage at the 2018 Gun Rights Policy Conference:

I’m not afraid to have hard conversations… topics and situations may be scary, but I don’t bury my head in the sand. I can’t avoid talking with my daughter’s oncologists about her health, and I don’t shy away from talking with school administrators about my children’s safety either. We need real solutions to hard problems, both actual and perceived, and I’m proud to be one of those leaders who are stepping forward.

Fast forward three years and I am still initiating difficult conversations with regards to public safety. In an age of red-flag tactics, lack of due process for gun owners, and social stigmas, it can be challenging to talk about suicide prevention. As leaders in the firearms industry, as moms and people who care about others, we can’t be silent on such topics, especially when they are so important.

We met Sarah Joy Albrecht from Hold My Guns a few years ago and have been following her work in the gun industry to address suicide prevention. I invited her to introduce the topic to the A Girl & A Gun (AG & AG) community on Veterans Day 2021 during a bonus Virtual Girls Night Out. More than 200 AG & AG members attended the presentation, which discussed recognizing baseline behaviors and encouraging the development of personal safety plans to reduce the statistics for suicide by firearm. One firearms instructor commented, “What an impact this could have! I never knew all this. Thanks for presenting and sharing this information.” We were inspired to do more.

Changing the Narrative

In 2013 the CDC published Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence, which estimated that there are 60,000 to 2.5 million defensive gun uses each year. Other industry reports also corroborate that the presence of a firearm in a defensive encounter has saved thousands of lives. However, in 2020 there were 43,469 deaths by firearm in the United States. Roughly two-thirds of these deaths were suicides, and the good news is that suicide can be prevented!

Evidence shows that referring to support services, talking about suicide, reducing access to means of self-harm, and following up with loved ones are just some of the actions we can all take to prevent suicides. If we do our part as a community to educate people about the signs of suicide and refer individuals to resources available to them, we will save lives. At the same time, we will also radically reduce the statistics of firearms-related deaths, which will provide a clearer picture that guns are more often used to save lives. Our efforts will safeguard rights and stop infringing legislation.

Nationwide Initiative

AG & AG is a caring and supportive community that encourages and expects people to be safe around firearms. Our events are fun, social gatherings where women and families get firearms training and encouragement, ask questions in a safe and nonjudgmental environment, improve their marksmanship, and make new friends. We educate others on how to create personal safety plans for their homes, travel, vehicles, and more. We foster a positive atmosphere of empowerment and safety, where we help each other live our best lives.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) says that creating environments that address risk and protective factors where individuals live, work, and play can help prevent suicide. Having honest and sincere discussions about suicide can encourage help-seeking, and demonstrate that good health and mental health are valued, while risk factors for suicide are not. And making changes to an individual’s physical environment to prevent harmful behavior, such as encouraging one to voluntarily limit access to lethal means, can reduce suicide rates.

AG & AG is proud to launch an initiative to reduce suicide by firearm. Our strategy is to take action on two societal levels:

  1. Community. At our National Conference, AG & AG is offering QPR Institute Gatekeeper Training, which educates instructors, range safety officers, gun shop employees, and others on the warning signs for suicide and equips them to respond. QPR is Question, Persuade, and Refer, an evidence-based process that empowers a Gatekeeper to assess suicide warning signs and refer the individual in crisis to appropriate resources. QPR is not a form of counseling or mental health treatment.
  2. Individual. AG & AG is expanding our Shooting Journal to include Personal Safety Plan worksheets to help members proactively address life’s ups and downs. By creating a customized, voluntary plan, individuals are equipped with strategies that bring comfort and utilize appropriate resources. Listing one’s personal preferences and actionable steps for an individual and close family or friends to follow, including access to lethal means, helps to promote safety and safeguard individual rights.

Journal Supplement

The AG & AG Shooting Journal provides a roadmap for shooters, from gun safety and the basics of marksmanship to advanced skills and personal development. Now, a new supplement includes worksheets that help an individual create a Personal Safety Plan. All AG & AG members can download the materials for free.

A personal plan empowers an individual to be her own first responder and gives her resources to ensure her own safety. The firearms community values personal accountability, preparation, and education, so encouraging individuals to create personal safety plans is a useful way to promote the safe use of firearms and take part in suicide prevention. Further, we can help those in crisis, change the conversation around suicide, and safeguard the dignity and rights of all people.

For individuals with depression, whether it has been diagnosed by a healthcare provider or not, there is a risk that thoughts of suicide may arise. While emotional pain may feel overwhelming, it does not mean that an individual will lose control or act on thoughts of self-harm. In fact, having a personal safety plan in place is one method that can help someone cope with bad feelings until circumstances change.

The Journal supplement offers worksheets with areas to list one’s baseline indicators, preferred means of comfort and care, and needs and wishes of the individual, including preferred options for lethal means storage. They help an individual draft personal, voluntary written steps to follow until the individual is safe again. This plan is simply a guide; it can be customized based on one’s own needs and input from a personal support team.

Learn more about the AG & AG Shooting Journal and download the Personal Safety Plan supplement at AGirlandAGun.org/journal.

Getting Help

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 provides 24/7, free, and confidential support for people in distress, prevention, and crisis resources for you or your loved ones. Some metropolitan areas can connect to the Lifeline by dialing 988; the dialing code will be available to everyone across the United States effective July 16, 2022.

If you or a loved one is in immediate danger and need urgent intervention, call 911.

About Robyn Sandoval

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