Lock up Medications. Lock up Guns. Talk about Safety.
These are the key, critical action steps that are the foundation of the Lock and Talk program, one piece of a comprehensive statewide approach to suicide prevention in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The focus of Lock and Talk is on securing lethal means, which refers to anything that could potentially be used by an individual to die by suicide.
Firearms and the use of medications, whether over-the-counter or prescribed, are lethal means that have remained a priority for the Lock and Talk program due to their frequency of use.
Since 2015, eight prevention specialists in the northern and western community mental health agencies of Virginia worked diligently to develop and implement a new community suicide prevention program: Lock and Talk.
These specialists expanded the program across Virginia in partnership with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS). Now, Lock and Talk is embedded in Prevention Services at Community Services Boards around the state.
Rebecca Textor, Suicide Prevention Specialist, DBHDS, says working in partnership with other state agencies has been key to ensuring this program is available throughout the Commonwealth, particularly in rural areas where families often have more than one firearm in the home.
“Through this program, behavioral healthcare specialists at your mental healthcare agencies across the state are giving away free, locking devices to the public. If you need them, they will provide them to you,” says Textor.
Firearm safety devices, including trigger locks and cable locks, as well as lock boxes for over the counter and prescription medications, are all free of charge, along with instructional materials on how to use them.
“We use our coalitions, we use our partners who are the experts, to help us educate the public and help us create materials that show you how to apply these locks safely, when to remove the firearm, what are the key signs that it’s time to remove the firearm, instead of just locking it, how to store your ammunition separately and why. Why you need to store your combination to your locking devices separately, or your key separately, for example,” explains Textor.
“We’ve also started educating our prevention specialists who go to events on how to use dummy guns, in order to show people how to apply locks. That’s been very helpful.”
She adds, “We also work with our partners in law enforcement and firearms educators to help us get out the message about the availability of these deterrents.”
Notes Danette Gibbs, Director, Campus Suicide Prevention Center, “Some of the best evidence we have about suicide prevention has to do with just reducing access to lethal means. Firearms are responsible for over 50% of suicide deaths in our country. We know you’re five times more likely to die by suicide if you have a firearm in your home.
“So people who are at risk, who are struggling with thoughts of suicide, probably shouldn’t have access to a firearm while they’re at risk. That doesn’t mean they never should. It just means at that moment, they probably should have it removed.”
Firearms dealers and gun range owners have been supportive of the program, displaying Lock and Talk posters in their establishments and including suicide prevention materials in their gun safety presentations and training courses.
Pharmacies around the state also support the program and share information about safely storing medications. Drug Take Back programs also spread the word on the importance of locking up medications and turning in unused pills, so they are not left around the home.
What about the Talk component of the program? Explains Textor, “The Talk piece is getting out into the public with these trainings and helping individuals feel empowered about how to start and hold conversations, not only about mental wellness, but about how to connect to resources, if they’re worried that somebody is suicidal and just help open the conversations and reduce the stigma overall of mental health.”
For more information about the program and how to obtain locking devices, visit: www.lockandtalk.org.