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Risk Factors

A Special Note To Parents from The Jason Foundation:
Accessibility to firearms, particularly handguns, influences the rate of teen suicides. Handguns were used in nearly 70% of teen suicides in 1990, up 20% since 1970. A home with a handgun is almost ten times more likely to have a teen suicide than a home without. If you have a gun, please take every precaution when storing it.

image of gun This article contains excerpts from the findings of the Youth Suicide by Firearms Task Force. The Task Force included individuals from American Association of Suicidology, AMA, Violence Policy Center, Department of Emergency Medicine at Medical College of Wisconsin, Institute for Juvenile Research, American Firearms Association, Harvard School of Public Health, National Shooting Sports Foundation, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children's Defense Fund.

The Task Force came together to review and debate the following research and epidemiological findings pertaining to youth suicides in the U.S.A., and to arrive at agreement regarding a focus for future collaboration. Their research found that:

--Firearms are the most common method of suicide by youth. This is true for both males and females, younger and older adolescents, and for all races (Kachur et al., 1995).

--The increase in the rate of youth suicide (and the number of deaths by suicide) over the past four decades is largely related to the use of firearms as a method (Boyd & Moscicki, 1986; CDC, 1986; Kachur et al., 1995).

--The most common location for the occurrence of firearm suicides by youth is the home (Brent et al., 1993).

--There is a positive association between the accessibility and availability of firearms in the home and the risk for youth suicide (Brent et al., 1993; Kellerman et al., 1992).

--The risk conferred by guns in the home is proportional to the accessibility (e.g., loaded and unsecured firearms) and the number of guns in the home (Brent et al., 1993; Kellerman et al., 1992).

--Guns in the home, particularly loaded guns, are associated with increased risk for suicide by youth, both with and without identifiable mental health problems or suicidal risk factors (Brent et al., 1993).

--If a gun is used to attempt suicide, a fatal outcome will result 78% to 90% of the time (Annest et al., 1995; Card, 1974)

--Public policy initiatives that restrict access to guns (especially handguns) are associated with a reduction of firearm suicide and suicide overall, especially among youth (Carrington et al., 1994; Loftin et al., 1991; Sloan et al., 1990).

The Task Force objective is in keeping with a public health preventive intervention approach and the proposed National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine's preventive intervention spectrum model, they believe that a significant proportion of suicides by firearms are preventable (Mrazek & Haggerty, 1994). It is vital to try to break the causal chain by separating vulnerable youth from this highly lethal method of suicide, i.e., firearms.

Indicated intervention approaches focus on the education of parents or parental figures who are gun-owners as to (a) understanding the risk associated with gun ownership with respect to violent death and suicide; and (b) the importance of gun safety, namely making a gun inoperable by and inaccessible to youth.

Professionals who come in contact with at-risk youth and their families must be educated to routinely ask about the presence and method of storage of firearms in the home, and to educate all families about safe storage practice for families who choose to keep guns. This can take place in the context of well-child care by primary care physicians, as well as by any professional who would come into contact with youth at risk for suicidal behavior (e.g., child welfare, juvenile justice, educational professionals, mental health professionals, etc.).

Pursuant to the achievement of firearms-secure homes, we support public health policy initiatives to develop, disseminate, and evaluate technologies that would decrease firearm operability by youth, thereby making it much more difficult for an adolescent to use a gun for a suicide. The Task Force supports legislative initiatives and efforts to increase market demand for these new technologies.

They endorse training and education with respect to the risks associated with guns in the home; the need for safer storage of guns; and identification of risk factors for youth suicide for all parents, professionals who take care of youth at risk, and all firearms owners.

At the most universal level of intervention, they support models promoting community and parental responsibility for consistent supervision of adolescents; maintenance of alcohol and drug-free homes; and if there is a gun in the home, adherence to safe storage (i.e., inaccessible and inoperable firearms).

They endorse seeking partnerships and collaborations with organizations and agencies that have a shared stake in the issues of youth suicide and violence, such as religious organizations, youth service organizations, juvenile justice, child welfare, and community service organizations.

They support epidemiological research that would increase our knowledge about culturally-specific issues associated with youth suicide and firearms, such as those in specific ethnic groups (e.g., African American, Native American), or in rural areas. Product-based research is needed to develop technologies to increase the safety of firearms. A better understanding of the cognition's, attitudes, and motivations for gun ownership and safe storage behaviors is needed. There is a need to research the gender differences in youth suicide. There is a need to understand the causal sequences leading up to youth suicide by firearms. Studies of the influence of media portrayals of violence and firearms use are urgently needed. There is a need to rigorously evaluate the effectiveness of proposed preventive interventions for youth suicide. There is a need to establish, support, and maintain surveillance and reporting systems of firearm-related suicides and suicidal behaviors.

Given the costs to American society and families wrought by youth suicide, they believe that immediate action needs to be taken. There is clear evidence that intervening in or preventing the immediate accessibility of a lethal weapon can save lives. They have identified the safe storage of guns as one preventive intervention approach that would result in a decrease in the number of youth suicides. The Task Force believes that a combination of indicated, selective and universal preventive interventions addressing this objective can successfully lead to a reduction in youth firearm suicides in our homes and communities. The achievement of this goal can only come about through the cooperation, coordination, and collaboration of concerned organizations at all levels of the community.

References

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