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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Lethal Means Counseling for Suicidal Adults in the Emergency Department: A Qualitative Study

  • Author(s): Siry, Bonnie J.
  • Knoepke, Christopher E.
  • Ernestus, Stephanie M.
  • Matlock, Daniel D.
  • Betz, Marian E.
  • et al.

Introduction: Lethal means counseling (to reduce access to firearms or other suicide methods) is a recommended critical yet challenging component of care of suicidal patients. Questions remain about communication strategies for those in acute crisis.

Method: This qualitative study was an analysis of semi-structured interviews with English-speaking, community-dwelling adults with a history of lived-experience of suicidal ideation or attempts in themselves or a family member. We used a mixed inductive and deductive approach to identify descriptive themes related to communication and decision-making.

Results: Among 27 participants, 14 (52%) had personal and 23 (85%) had family experience with suicide ideation or attempts. Emergent themes fell into two domains: (1) communication in a state of high emotionality; and (2) specific challenges in communication: initiating, maintaining engagement, considering context.

Conclusion: Engaging suicidal individuals in lethal means counseling may be more effective when messaging and approaches consider their emotional state and communication challenges.

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