What Are Lethal Means?

Many suicide attempts take place during a short-term crisis. Putting time and distance between lethal means and individuals who may be in crisis can prevent suicide and save lives. 

— National Alliance for Suicide Prevention

What are lethal means?

Lethal means refers to any instrument or object that someone in crisis might use to take their life (e.g., medication, firearms, bridges). According to the T.H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health’s Means Matter Study, temporary “Means reduction” (reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal means)” is a powerful strategy in preventing these unnecessary deaths. If they do not have access to those instruments at the height of a suicidal crisis, individuals are much more likely to survive.

Facts about lethal means and suicide in the U.S. and Montana:

  • Medications are the most commonly used method for a suicide attempt in the U.S., while firearms are the most common method involved in suicide deaths.
  • In 2019, 7.5 percent of all Montana suicides involved prescription medication.
  • From 2010 – 2019 firearms were used in 63 percent of all Montana suicides, and 86 percent of all firearm deaths in the state were suicides.
  • In Montana, males were 5 times more likely to die from a firearm-related injury than females from 2010 – 2019.
  • The time between the decision to make a suicide attempt and the actual attempt is usually five minutes to an hour.
  • Most people don’t substitute lethal means, and if they do, they tend to use something less lethal. In that case, they will have time to think about the behavior and seek help, or there may be enough time for someone to find them and get them medical attention.
  • Ninety percent of people who survive a suicide attempt do not die by suicide later.
  • The majority ( 82 percent in Montana) of firearms used in a youth suicide belonged to a parent.
  • Even when parents instruct children to stay away from a firearm in the home, those directions do not prevent firearm misuse, especially in a crisis situation.

Ways you can keep your home and loved ones safe:


  • When not in use, keep all of your firearms locked and unloaded. If available, store them in a gun safe, or use a gun lock to keep them secure.
  • Unload ammunition and safely store it away from any available firearms.
  • If someone in your household is struggling, consider temporarily giving available firearms to a trusted friend or family member outside of the home. If that doesn’t work, get a gun lock and ask someone you trust to hold the keys and combinations.
  • If you use a firearm for home safety, use a fast access firearm safe where only you have the combination.
  • To request a combination gun lock, please contact us here.


  • Keep all medication locked up, save for a one-week supply. If someone in your household is in a mental health crisis, limit access to one-day’s worth of Rx.
  • Dispose of any leftover medication by dropping them off at a prescription disposal site or by requesting a Deterra Drug Deactivation System. You can also get rid of medication by mixing it with dirt, kitty litter or coffee grounds and then place in your trash.
  • Ask your pharmacist to use a blister pack instead of a bottle for pills
  • Ask your doctor to limit doses to a one-month supply