Guns and Suicide

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

The Harvard School of Mental Health just published the results of a study that examined the relationship between household firearms ownership and the rate of suicide. According to the study suicide among people 45 years of age and younger suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. Among the 50 states in the United States, those with higher rates of household gun ownership had higher rates of suicide among children, women and men.

It is important to understand, according to the study, that the higher rates of suicide among those who own guns has to do with the fact that guns are much more lethal than other methods of attempting suicide. What is troubling about this is that suicide attempts are viewed as a desperate call for help among those who are depressed or mentally ill with a psychotic illness. The rate of successful suicide completions is far less for people who use other methods than using a gun. For example, 75% of all suicide attempts are by the use of drugs. These people are found alive 97% of the time. Those who succeed in using drugs to attempt suicide are successful only 3% of the time. By contrast, more than 90% of all suicide attempts by use of firearms are successful. The bottom line is that anyone using a gun to commit suicide is not likely to have their call for help heard and responded to before its too late.


A large number of those who commit suicide by gun shot are adolescents. Teenagers tend to be more emotional, depressed, anxious and impulsive than most adult members of society. When you add to that the fact that teens abuse alcohol and drugs, adding to their depression and emotionality, the availability of a gun makes them extremely vulnerable to a successful suicide attempt.

The study concludes that either those who own guns lock them away with bullets stored separately from the weapon or that guns be barred from the home. The study emphatically states that people are less likely to die when guns are not available.

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What is troubling for me as a mental health professional is that guns are so easily available to children and teens at a time when the rates of mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse are increasing. Suicide rates are increasing at an alarming rate among those between 15 and 24 years of age. The rates of suicide attempts are much higher than those that are completed which becomes even more alarming because of what it says about the state of desperation so many young people are in.

In my opinion, simply making guns less available is not the complete answer to the problem of suicide because it eliminates a method and not the cause of such despair that leads the young to attempt such an awful act.

In future logs and essays we will discuss the adolescent stage of life with the aim of getting a better understanding of who they are and what pressures they are subject to in today’s world.

What are your opinions and experiences? Your input is not only welcome but is encouraged.

Keep Reading By Author Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.
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