Wednesday, March 16, 2022

People Who Die by Suicide Using Firearms Less Likely to Have Ever Sought Mental Health Treatment

People who die by suicide using firearms appear to be less likely to have received treatment for mental illness compared with people who died by suicide using other means, according to a report in JAMA Network Open. They are also less likely to have a history of suicidal ideation or suicide attempt than people who die by suicide by other means.

People who die by suicide using firearms were slightly more likely to disclose suicide plans to someone within the previous month—although less than a quarter of all decedents disclosed suicide plans. “Those who die by firearm are not doing so without any notable risk indicator; rather, they are providing very important information to those around them,” wrote Allison Bond, M.A., of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center,  Michael D. Anestis, Ph.D., of Rutgers University, and colleagues.

Bond, Anestis, and colleagues examined data on 234,652 suicide deaths from 2003 to 2018 reported in the National Violent Death Reporting System. The average age at death was 46.3 years; 77.8% were male, and 87.8% were White. The researchers compared treatment seeking, history of suicidal ideation or plans, history of suicide attempts, and disclosure of suicidal ideation by people who died by the three most common methods of suicide (49.9% by firearm; 26.7% by hanging, strangulation, or suffocation; and 15.3% by poisoning).

They found that nearly three-quarters (73.2%) of all decedents were not receiving treatment for a mental health or substance abuse disorder at the time of their death, and two-thirds (66.4%) had never sought treatment for a mental or substance abuse disorder. Decedents whose highest level of education was a high school degree represented the largest percentage of deaths across all methods.

Of those who died by suicide using firearm, here are other important findings:

  • 20.7% were receiving treatment at the time of death compared with 33% of those who died by other means; 26.6% had ever sought treatment for mental illness compared with 40.7% of those who died by suicide by other means.
  • 10.7% had attempted suicide in the past, and 18.1% reported a history of suicidal ideation or plans; of those who died by other means, 25.4% had a past suicide attempt, and 21.3% had reported a history of suicidal ideation or plans.
  • 23.4% disclosed thoughts or plans of suicide to someone in the month prior to death compared with 23.2% who died by other means. Those with a recent disclosure of suicidal plans within the last month had higher odds of using firearms (odds ratio, 1.16).

The findings that those who died by firearm were more likely to disclose plans “highlights the importance of increasing population-level understanding of means safety and possible mechanisms to limit access to lethal means,” the authors stated. “By increasing such knowledge, we can empower people to intervene and help friends and loved ones decrease the likelihood of suicide.”

For more information, see the Psychiatric Services article “Preventing Suicide Through Better Firearm Safety Protection in the United States.”

(Image: iStock/Pornpak Khunatorn)

Registration for MindGames Closes March 16

MindGames, APA’s national residency team competition, is a fun way for residents to test their knowledge on patient care, medical knowledge, and psychiatric history while earning bragging rights for their program. Teams are composed of three residents and must complete the qualifying exam in one, 60-minute setting. Only one team per institution may compete. 2022 MindGames will be held virtually during APA’s Annual Meeting Online Experience. Registration closes Wednesday, March 16, at 11:59 p.m. ET.



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