Although suicide among children and adolescents appears to have declined somewhat since the 1990s, the rate of youth suicide in rural America has remained steady. Talking about guns may be one way to stem that tragic tide, according to a new study.
Jonathan Singer, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work at Temple University and Karen Slovak, Ph.D., of Ohio University co-authored the paper with the intention of helping clinicians provide care to parents and troubled kids in rural areas.
They were surprised to learn how clinicians addressed the issue of gun culture in this process.
“The clinicians in the study told us that guns were so prevalent in their communities, they were just part of the furniture,” said Singer. “So a big part of their job is making the invisible, visible.”
Experts suggest once a clinician determines that a child is at risk for suicide, it is up to the parents to bridge the gap between the clinician’s initial assessment and follow-up treatment, which might include anything from short-term therapy to hospitalization to long-term counseling and medication.
However, researchers found that there are several barriers to successfully engaging parents.
To begin with, parents are often resistant to believing that their child is suicidal. In fact, they are often in shock that their loved one is at risk. After surmounting this hurdle, clinicians must address the immediate safety issue of a gun in the home. In rural communities this is a significant concern.
Guns are the most lethal means of suicide, said Singer. Even though girls attempt suicide four times more often as boys, boys die from suicide four times as often in large part because boys are more likely to use guns.
“In rural areas, we don’t need to educate parents about guns. Everyone knows how they work. Instead we need to remind families they have guns and they are lethal,” said Singer.
“The conversation needs to focus on keeping guns secure and limiting access to guns. Clinicians need to say, ‘Your son could use one of your guns to kill himself.'”
The study also found that having experience with guns aided a clinician’s credibility with parents.
The new study is published in the journal Child & Family Social Work.
Source: Temple University