Thursday, June 27, 2024

Surgeon General Lays Out Approach to Stem Growing Crisis of Gun Violence

The U.S. Surgeon General issued a landmark advisory Tuesday spelling out the crisis of firearm violence and calling for a commitment from the nation—from firearm owners to clinicians to community leaders—to tackle the growing and urgent threat using a public health approach.

The report calls for implementing community violence prevention programs and firearm risk reduction strategies; expanding research funding; and improving access to mental health care and support for those exposed to or at risk for firearm violence including trauma-informed care.

More than half of adults (54%) report that they or a family member have experienced a firearm-related incident, leading to ripples of harm across society, Vice Adm. Vivek Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., said in a video briefing. “The collective trauma and fear that Americans are experiencing is contributing to the mental health challenges that we are facing today. Nearly 6 in 10 U.S. adults say they worry about a loved one being a victim of firearm violence.

“Our children should not have to live in fear that they are going to get shot if they go to school. None of us should have to worry that going to the mall or a concert or a house of worship means putting our lives at risk, or that we'll get a call that a loved one in a moment of crisis has taken their own life with a firearm,” Murthy said.

The report noted that the rate of firearm deaths has reached a nearly three-decade high. More than 48,000 people died from firearm-related injuries in 2022, an increase of more than 16,000 lives since 2010. The majority of such deaths were from suicide (56%), and 40% were from homicide. Firearm injuries became the leading cause of death of U.S. children and adolescents starting in 2020, surpassing motor vehicle crashes, cancer, and drug overdose and poisoning.

The report also calls for building a strong foundation of gun violence prevention research, as well as launching community risk reduction strategies to support populations at increased risk of firearm violence involvement. Organizations can help address the issue with early intervention strategies like behavioral threat assessment and management teams (BTAM) in schools or having health systems educate patients on safe and secure firearm storage.

In addition, the report discusses the importance of “building distance in terms of time and space” between firearms and people who are at risk of harming themselves and others. To that end, it recommends various gun control measures and temporary firearm removal policies such as Extreme Risk Protection Orders and Domestic Violence Protection Orders, the latter of which have been implemented in some capacity in all 50 states.

“The members of the American Psychiatric Association have become all too familiar with suicides and homicides involving gun violence and the additional impacts on people’s mental and physical health,” said Marketa Wills, M.D., M.B.A., APA CEO and medical director in response to the report. “The Surgeon General’s Advisory on Firearm Violence elevates this crisis in our national attention and emphasizes the damage gun violence has caused to families across the United States. It affirms that people with mental illness are especially vulnerable and includes prevention strategies that could help save lives.”

For more information, see the Psychiatric News article “Psychiatrists Have Tools to Prevent Gun Violence.”

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