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Access to Guns and Suicide

     

Suicide is a major public health concern in the U.S. and a terrible, often avoidable, tragedy for far too many individuals and family and friends. More than half of all suicides involve guns.

The statistics are daunting.

  • More than 40,000 people in the United States die by suicide each year
  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among teens and young adults, age 15 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • In 2014 an average of 58 people a day died by suicide with a firearm, nearly twice as many as died by homicide involving firearms

More than one million adults attempt suicide each year. And more than 9 million adults have suicidal thoughts each year. Suicide attempts with a firearm are fatal in about 85 percent of cases. In comparison, the most common method in suicide attempts, drug overdose, is fatal in less than 3 percent of cases. An abundance of research has found that having access to firearms in the home is associated with significantly higher rates of suicide.

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Click graphic to enlarge.
Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

A recent report from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence identifies reasons guns in the home increase the likelihood of suicide: guns are more lethal than other methods and suicide attempts are often impulsive acts, “the quick, easy, and destructive nature of firearm injury means those who decide to attempt suicide with a firearm in the midst of a crisis are less able to fully consider their decision and change their mind.” An estimated one-third of U.S. households have firearms.

Liza Gold, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and editor of the recently published Gun Violence and Mental Illness, said in Psychiatric News that “only two interventions have been demonstrated to be effective in decreasing suicide mortality: physician education in suicide risk assessment and restriction of lethal means.” She argues that routine psychiatric evaluation should include asking about access to firearms in the home.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends action to protect adolescents, particularly those that may be at increased risk: “The presence of guns in the home increases the risk of lethal suicidal acts among adolescents. Health care professionals should counsel the parents of all adolescents to remove guns from the home or restrict access to them. This advice should be reiterated and reinforced for patients with mood disorders, substance abuse problems (including alcohol), or a history of suicide attempts.”

The Brady Center report concludes, “limiting easy access to a gun for someone who considers or even attempts suicide can literally be the difference between life and death.”


References

     

Patients and Families

 

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