Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sharfstein Says Suicide, not Homicide Is Greatest Gun Danger

Former APA President Steven Sharfstein, M.D., writing in the Baltimore Sun earlier this week, emphasizes that while laws aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental illness, which are being debated in Maryland, would have little effect on the homicide rate in the United States, they could have a major impact on the suicide rate.

Sharfstein, who is president and CEO of Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore, emphasized that, "In the intense debate on gun violence and mental illness, with a focus on the extremely rare event of mass murders such in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., what is the serious suicide epidemic we experience in the United States every year due to gun violence." He pointed out that 20,000 of the 30,000 annual gun-related deaths in this country are suicides. "If you try to kill yourself with a gun, you will be successful 80 percent of the time, as compared with suicide attempts by overdose, in which the success rate is less than 2 percent." He also said there is a strong link between the availability of guns, their presence in a home, and suicide, noting that "75 percent of guns used in youth suicides are accessible in the home or the home of a friend."

To bring down the gun suicide rate, strong barriers to availability of guns are needed, he said. Though depression is the greatest suicide risk factor, "Many people who commit suicide by gun are momentarily desperate and panicked rather than classically depressed," Sharfstein noted.

Sharfstein's complete op-ed column in posted here. To read articles published yesterday in the American Journal of Psychiatry's AJP in Advance about the recent mass shootings and how psychiatrists should respond, click here and here.


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