Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Firearm Suicides Decline After Size of Army Reduced

A study published yesterday in AJP in Advance (the online-ahead of-print website of the American Journal of Psychiatry) sheds light on the debate over whether reducing the availability of guns might contribute to a reduction in the suicide rate. Researchers found that after Switzerland's government cut the size of the country's army in half a decade ago, there was a significant drop in the number of suicides among Swiss men aged 18 to 43, while the number of suicides among two comparison groups—women in the same age group and men aged 44 to 53—did not change significantly. Switzerland has a militia army in which soldiers keep their government-issued guns in their homes, so with a substantial reduction in the number of military members, there was a corresponding reduction in the number of guns available to young men. While there was a small uptick in the number of railroad-related suicides in the years after the reform, no significant increase was found to indicate people were turning to other methods of suicide.

"The army reform wasn't intended to be a suicide prevention measure," said lead researcher Thomas Reisch, M.D., of University Hospital of Psychiatry in Bern, Switzerland, "but suicide by shooting is often done impulsively, and reducing the availability of firearms may have decreased impulsive suicides."

The APA Board of Trustees addressed the link between guns and suicide in passing the following position at its meeting earlier this month: "Although concern is understandably heightened when mass tragedies occur, the daily occurrence of murders and suicides due to the use of guns accounts for a far greater proportion of gun deaths. Although people with mental disorders, when treated, are not at increased risk of committing violence toward others, only a small minority of people with mental disorders, even without treatment are violent." 

Read more about the issue of guns, suicide, and violence in Psychiatric News here. Also see Psychiatric Services here.

(image: Oleg Zabielin/


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