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Who would have thought …… commercial interests exist in suicide prevention?

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to be with some of the world’s leaders in suicide prevention at the European Symposium on Suicide and Self-harm Behaviour (ESSSB). While there were some impressive names on the program what struck me was the up-and-coming generation of suicide prevention researchers.

Like many public health issues that have been tackled over time there is a myriad of influences that drive suicidal behaviour. These young researchers are tackling them head on delving into its complexities from epigenetics to social systems research seeking to create knowledge and understanding that will improve our responses to suicide.

One presentation particularly caught my attention – the commercial interests in suicide prevention. We are all familiar with the use of firearms in the US. What I was not so familiar with was the extent to which gun related businesses are applying marketing tactics which make access to means not only more available but also arguably more attractive. It caused me even greater concern when I saw that this marketing was targeting women. For me reminiscent of the tobacco industry tactics to increase smoking among women when the men’s market was fading.

I have written before that I do not want to see the experience with smoking control repeated. Advertising tactics like the above which are deliberately speaking to women, and children, must be called out and alternate tactics developed to reduce their impact.

We need these impressive young researchers to take on gun control. Help us to understand the language, imagery and product development so that we can invest in programs that will prevent us from going down the same track we did three decades ago with smoking control.

So, for World Suicide Prevention Day let’s call out bad behaviour by commercial interests in suicide prevention. We need to invest in research to understand how to overturn these marketing tactics and develop gender appropriate programs for all people who are vulnerable to suicide.

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Restriction of access to means of suicide has been long established as one of the most effective strategies to reduce deaths by suicide. Many low- and middle-income countries have tackled this with restrictions in access to pesticides and charcoal and in some cases substitution of products that are lethal with others. They have shown courage and determination and have reduced suicide deaths as a result. It is curious that the US has not been able to tackle suicide prevention via restrictions on access to guns and ammunition to any great effect. Commercial interests, coupled to social and cultural phenomena have got in the way and lives are lost. In Australia, our access to means issues are different yet those working…

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