About 20,000 Americans die from firearm suicide each year. These deaths are preventable. Here’s what you need to know.
Suicide is a serious problem in the United States. Recent data shows suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals ages 15–34, and it is the tenth leading cause of death overall.
Though the gun lobby regularly denies it, there is a well-established link between firearms and suicide, and suicides can be prevented by temporarily removing guns from individuals in crisis.
While the majority of people living with mental illness are not at imminent risk of suicide at any given moment, mental illness is a risk factor for suicide, and most people who die from suicide experienced symptoms of a mental health crisis prior to their death.
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence compiled five things to know about suicide and guns:
1. Firearm suicides comprise half of all suicide deaths.
Firearms account for half of all suicide deaths and are the most lethal method of suicide. More people who die from suicide use a gun than all other methods combined.
Among some demographics, firearm suicide is even more prevalent — among men ages 65 years and older, firearm suicides comprise nearly 80 percent of suicide deaths.
2. Having a gun in the home is associated with an increased risk of suicide.
In areas where there are more guns, there are more suicides. Gun ownership increases the risk of suicide for those in the home, including children. One study showed that 82 percent of children under 17 who died from firearm suicide used a gun belonging to a family member — usually a parent.
3. Suicide is often an impulsive act in a moment of temporary crisis, and a gun can make a temporary moment of acute distress lethal.
In one study of near-lethal suicide attempt survivors, one in four survivors said they deliberated less than five minutes before making their attempt. Nearly 75 percent said they deliberated for one hour or less.
As these periods of acute risk often pass quickly, limiting access to lethal means until the crisis has passed can save lives.
4. If a firearm is not readily available, a person in crisis is more likely to survive.
A 2017 study found that decreases in firearm suicides did not lead to increases in suicides by other methods. The risk of method substitution is low, meaning that reducing access to common and more lethal methods of suicide (such as firearms) leads to lower overall suicide rates.
Even if an individual does substitute another method, the attempt is much less likely to be fatal when he or she does not have access to a gun.
5. Talking about suicide and access to guns is critical to prevention.
Suicide is not inevitable — nine out of ten people who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide.
Asking whether someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts. And if a loved one is suicidal, limiting access to firearms can be lifesaving.
If you — or someone you know — need(s) help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255.