A new study reports that nearly 20 percent of suicidal children and teens have guns in their homes.
What’s more, 15 percent of those kids can access both guns and bullets.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 to 24 years in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly half who die by suicide use a firearm, according to researchers.
As part of a study to create a suicide risk screening tool that can be used in the emergency departments of hospitals, researchers asked kids about access to guns in or around their home and about gun and bullet storage.
“For more than 1.5 million adolescents, the emergency department is their primary point of contact with the health care system, which makes the ED an important place for identifying youth at risk for suicide,” said Stephen J. Teach, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P., associate chief in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and co-author of the study.
Because many health professionals and parents don’t know how to ask kids about suicide, they need screening tools to assist in detection, added study senior author Lisa M. Horowitz, Ph.D., M.P.H., staff scientist and a pediatric psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health.
“According to our data, when asked their opinion, nearly all of the kids in our study were in favor of suicide screening in the emergency department,” she said.
“Our study shows that if you ask kids directly about suicide, they will tell you what they are thinking.”
Study participants included 524 patients between the ages of 10 and 21 who were seen for medical, surgical or psychiatric complaints at one of three pediatric emergency departments. They were asked to fill out a 17-item questionnaire that the researchers used to develop the Ask Suicide-Screening Questions (ASQ), a four-question screening tool that can be used for all pediatric patients visiting the ED. The ASQ has been validated against a longer more in-depth suicide assessment tool, researchers noted.
Of the patients who completed the screening tools, 151 — 29 percent — were found to be at risk for suicide, according to the researchers. The study also found that 17 percent of them reported guns in or around the home.
Of those at risk for suicide and reporting guns in the home, 31 percent knew how to access the guns, 31 percent knew how to access the bullets, and 15 percent knew how to access both the guns and the bullets, according to the study’s findings.
“This study highlights the importance of parents understanding the risks of having guns in their homes,” said co-author and youth suicide expert Jeffrey A. Bridge, Ph.D., principal investigator at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
“Being at risk for suicide and having access to firearms is a volatile mix. These conversations need to take place in the ED with families of children at risk for suicide.”
Bridge also noted that up to 40 percent of kids who kill themselves have no known mental illness. “Therefore, it is important to screen all children and adolescents for suicide, regardless of the reason they are visiting the ED,” he added.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics