Building a rapport with your patients and supporting them is practically in the job description of a pharmacist. These abilities put pharmacists in a key position to intervene with people who may be contemplating suicide, according to a keynote speaker at the American Pharmacists Association Annual Meeting and Exposition in Seattle, Washington.1

Kevin Briggs, a California highway patrol officer who is credited with saving the lives of dozens of people who contemplated suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, said that as the most accessible health care providers, pharmacists can play a vital role in preventing suicides as well.

Suicide rates have risen in most states since 1999, and nearly 45,000 Americans aged 10 or older committed suicide in 2016, according to data from the CDC.That number rose slightly in 2017, to more than 47,000 people.

Briggs, who founded Pivotal Points, which is designed to raise awareness about mental health issues, said that pharmacists are in a good position to recognize some key warning signs in people who are contemplating suicide, such as abusing alcohol or drugs, ceasing or stockpiling medications, and having trouble sleeping, and they can watch for other signs, such as a changing appearance, giving away belongings, and becoming isolated.

He urged pharmacists to listen to people as they discuss their medications. If they are using phrases such as, “It’s no use, I’ve tried everything” or “If I wasn’t around, no one would miss me” or “If I killed myself, then people would be sorry,” then the pharmacist needs to initiate what Briggs calls the “courageous conversation.” Phrases like these demand immediate attention and an engaged one-on-one consultation, where the pharmacist actively listens by tuning out all distractions, he said. Briggs encouraged pharmacists to offer support, validation, and follow-up with professional counselors when warranted.

He warned the pharmacists in attendance at the meeting to avoid “negotiation techniques,” with a person who is contemplating suicide. “Ego does not work in negotiations, and comparing situations does not’s not about what you went through, it’s about them,” Briggs said, offering this pearl: “Employ the 80-20 rule; that is, let them speak 80% of the time and us 20%.” He also said that at times, when dealing with someone who is contemplating harming themselves, just listening can help. “On occasion silence can be golden,” Briggs said.

It is important to arm patients who are considering self-harm with coping skills, including the importance of eating healthy, sleep, understanding triggers, and talking to trained professionals, such as those available at the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255, when necessary.


1. Briggs K. Keynote Presentation: Know the Signs, Save a Life: Pharmacists Role in Suicide Prevention. Presented at: APHA2019. Seattle, Washington; March 24, 2019.