Teens with mental health problems who are also at risk for suicide have just as easy access to the guns in their homes as teens without a suicide risk, according to new research from the University of Washington. In fact, 41 percent of all teens who live in a home where a gun is kept report having easy access to it.
Suicide is the second-highest cause of death among adolescents in the United States; just having a gun in the home increases the risk as nearly half of suicides involve a gun.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from the National Comorbidity Survey–Adolescent Supplement, a nationally representative sample of more than 10,000 US adolescents, ages 13-18.
“The main finding was that children with mental health risk factors for suicide are just as likely to report in-home firearm access as those without suicide risk factors.
“And that was true even when comparing firearm access between children with no suicide risk factors and those who reported a suicide attempt in the preceding 12 months, who, I would argue, are probably at the highest suicide risk of those surveyed,” said Dr. Joseph A. Simonetti, a research fellow at Harborview Medical Center’s Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle.
The survey screened teens for mental health diagnoses such as depression, bipolar disorder, and drug and alcohol abuse, as well as whether they had ever thought about, planned, or attempted suicide. The teens were also asked if a gun was kept in their home, and if so, could they get a gun and “shoot it right now” if they wanted to or whether the guns or ammunition were inaccessible.
The findings showed that about one in three of the teens lived in a home with a gun; of those, 40 percent said they could access and fire the gun. These teens tended to be slightly older, more likely to be male, come from higher-income families, and live in rural areas than those who lived in a household with a gun or guns but did not have access to the weapons or ammunition.
“One finding that was particularly disturbing was that the teens who reported having easy access to guns were also significantly more likely to have a history of drug or alcohol use disorders,” Simonetti said.
The combination of substance abuse and access to firearms is linked to an increased risk of suicide as well as unintentional gun injuries.
“Safe firearm-storage needs more effective promotion, particularly in households with at-risk children,” Simonetti said. “There appears to be a disconnect between generally agreed upon firearm safety practices and what we’re actually seeing in the community.”
The findings are published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Source: University of Washington