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Guns and Suicide

September 19, 2012  |  By Heidi Romans Nelson, CEO Duffy Health Center

You may be aware that last week was Suicide Prevention Week. The following piece from the National Council on Behavioral Healthcare caught my eye. The President of this Association reported on the results of a study that showed that guns are not only a popular means of suicide, but that access to firearms is strongly associated with the increased risk of suicide.

A study in 2007 by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who live in areas with high concentrations of guns are more likely to die by suicide. The study, which accounted for factors like poverty, substance use, and mental illness, looked at the 15 states with the highest firearm ownership and found that twice as many people committed suicide compared to those in the six states with the lowest firearm ownership. Published in The Journal of Trauma, the study concluded that "the ready availability of firearms is likely to have the greatest effect on suicide rates in groups characterized by more impulsive behavior."

That "impulsive behavior" the researchers referred to is what makes guns a death sentence for people intent on killing themselves. The Harvard study found that while firearms are used in only 5% of suicide attempts, they are responsible for more than 50% of suicide deaths because of their 90% fatality rate. Many of the most widely-used suicide attempt methods have fatality rates below 5%. A 2002 study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that attempts involving firearms were 2.5 times more lethal than those involving suffocation — the second most lethal form of suicide. A chilling study.