Suicide prevention by limiting access to methods: a review of theory and practice

Soc Sci Med. 2010 May;70(10):1626-32. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.01.029. Epub 2010 Feb 12.


This review discusses the limitation of access to suicide methods as a way to prevent suicide, an approach which forms a major component of many national suicide prevention strategies. An important distinction is made between efforts that attempt to limit physical access to suicide methods and those that attempt to reduce the cognitive availability of suicide. Physical imitations will be reviewed with reference to restricting access to domestic gas, catalytic converters, firearms, pesticides, jumping, paracetamol and methods used in prisons. Impacts of cognitive availability will be discussed mainly with regard to the media in terms of providing access to technical information and sensational or inaccurate portrayals of suicide. Drawing on psychological models of suicidal ideation and behaviour, this review explores how processes leading to suicidal behaviour and issues around method choice may relate to the effectiveness of limiting access to methods. Potential problems surrounding method limitations are explored, in particular the factors contributing to substitution, the risk that alternative methods of suicide may be used if one is restricted. It is concluded that in appropriate contexts, where substitution is less likely to occur, and in conjunction with psychosocial prevention efforts, limitation of both physical and cognitive access to suicide can be an effective suicide prevention strategy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Suicide / psychology
  • Suicide Prevention*
  • Suicide, Attempted / prevention & control
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology