In August 2014, the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services sponsored a suicide prevention summit where stakeholders from Virginia’s Health Planning Region I (HPR I) came together to plan a region-specific approach to suicide prevention. Participants included prevention specialists from each of the community services boards (CSB) that provide state-contracted mental health services in HPR I and members of community prevention coalitions that work with the CSBs.
While reviewing data from the Virginia Violent Death Reporting System, the participants found that firearms were associated with 61 percent of suicides in HPR I, and self-poisoning with 19 percent. In response, they established Lock and Talk Virginia, a project to prevent suicides by (1) restricting access to firearms and poisons during a mental health crisis and (2) educating members of the public how to recognize and respond to the warning signs of suicide.
Public awareness efforts have included a number of high-profile television appearances, billboards, and posters displayed in gun shops, firing ranges, and other locations using the slogan “Someone in Crisis? Lock Meds. Lock Guns. Talk Safety.” Lock and Talk Virginia also sponsors gatekeeper trainings that stress the importance of restricting access to lethal means among people experiencing a mental health crisis. The project also maintains a Facebook page in support of its outreach efforts and events.
The project has embarked on an ambitious effort to distribute free cable and trigger locks for firearms as well as locking medication boxes. As of this writing, Lock and Talk Virginia and its partners have given away 7,500 gun locks and 1,500 medication boxes. These partners include 110 gun retailers, firing ranges, and pawn shops as well as police and sheriff’s departments, mobile crisis units, domestic violence shelters, hospitals, and rural mobile food pantries. Region I Suicide Prevention Coordinator Rebecca Textor reported that 90 percent of the gun retailers and firing ranges that the Suicide Prevention Committee has approached have agreed to participate. Lock and Talk Virginia also produced a video in which a staff member from one of their gun shop partners demonstrates how to use a cable lock.
The free gun locks are accompanied by the message that the best strategy for protecting a person at risk is to remove firearms from the home until a mental health crisis has passed. Some of the gun retailers who work with Lock and Talk Virginia will temporarily store firearms for individuals and families during periods of high risk.