Gun own­er­ship might be fac­tor in teen sui­cide rates

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - HEALTH / WEATHER - BY JUS­TINE McDANIEL

Youth sui­cide rates are higher in states where house­hold gun own­er­ship is more com­mon, ac­cord­ing to a new study pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pre­ven­tive Medicine.

In the 10 states with the high­est youth sui­cide rates, the av­er­age house­hold gun own­er­ship rate was more than 50 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the study. In the 10 states with the low­est sui­cide rates, it was 20 per­cent. That in­cludes New Jer­sey, which had the low­est youth sui­cide rate in the na­tion.

“The avail­abil­ity of firearms is con­tribut­ing to an in­crease in the ac­tual num­ber of sui­cides,” said pre­doc­toral fel­low Anita Knopov, the study’s lead au­thor, “not just lead­ing youth to sub­sti­tute other means of sui­cide for guns.”

Sui­cides have been ris­ing across all age groups, but notably among young people, for whom sui­cide is the sec­ond-lead­ing cause of death, be­hind un­in­ten­tional in­jury. Ev­ery day, an av­er­age of three people be­tween ages 10 and 19 die by firearm-re­lated sui­cide, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion says. The year 2016 saw 1,102 youth sui­cides by guns across the United States.

The study, re­ported in Pre­ven­tive Medicine, said New Jer­sey had the sec­ond-low­est rate of house­hold gun own­er­ship of any state and a youth sui­cide rate of 2.6 per 100,000 people. By con­trast, in the states with the four high­est sui­cide rates — be­tween 11 and 15 per 100,000 in Alaska, South Dakota, Wy­oming, and Mon­tana — 60 per­cent to 65 per­cent of house­holds own guns, re­searchers from the Bos­ton Uni­ver­sity School of Pub­lic Health found.

Penn­syl­va­nia was tied with New Hamp­shire for the 10th-low­est sui­cide rate, 4.2 per 100,000, and has a mid­dling pro­por­tion of gun own­er­ship at 35 per­cent. Wy­oming had the high­est house­hold gun own­er­ship at 65.5 per­cent; Hawaii the low­est at 10.2 per­cent.

“This study demon­strates that the strong­est sin­gle pre­dic­tor of a state’s youth sui­cide rate is the preva­lence of house­hold gun own­er­ship in that state,” said coau­thor Michael Siegel, Bos­ton Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor of com­mu­nity health sciences.

The study, pub­lished this month, is the first to ex­am­ine youth sui­cide state by state as it re­lates to house­hold gun-own­er­ship rates. It adds to a body of find­ings that own­ing a gun in­creases the risk that some­one in the house­hold may die by com­mit­ting sui­cide.

For youth, ev­ery 10 per­cent­age-point in­crease in house­hold gun own­er­ship was as­so­ci­ated with a 26.9 per­cent in­crease in the sui­cide rate, the study found. The study used house­hold gun own­er­ship data col­lected in 2004, and ex­am­ined sui­cide rates in people age 10 to 19 be­tween 2005 and 2015.

“Given that we know that youth sui­cide rates have been in­creas­ing in our coun­try over the past decade, which is a cer­tainly trou­ble­some trend, be­ing able to iden­tify fac­tors that put youth sui­cide at risk is crit­i­cal -- in par­tic­u­lar with re­gard to firearms, which tend to be the most com­mon method for males and also the most lethal,” said Ri­nad Bei­das, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try and med­i­cal ethics and health pol­icy at the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s Perel­man School of Medicine.

In 2008, Har­vard re­searchers look­ing at the whole pop­u­la­tion, not just youth, also found that states with higher gun own­er­ship had higher sui­cide rates. A 2016 Bos­ton Uni­ver­sity study re­view­ing three decades’ worth of data found the same, and specif­i­cally that firearm own­er­ship was a strong pre­dic­tor of male sui­cide rates.

Doc­tors and re­searchers have rec­om­mended safe firearm stor­age prac­tices for gun-own­ing par­ents, such as us­ing gun locks and stor­ing firearms and am­mu­ni­tion sep­a­rately.

Mar­shall, who worked with the Na­tional Shoot­ing Sports Foun­da­tion to de­velop and dis­trib­ute guides for firearm own­ers dis­cussing sui­cide risk, rec­om­mended stor­ing firearms un­loaded and locked, keep­ing the keys to locks out of the reach of chil­dren or at-risk fam­ily mem­bers, or tem­po­rar­ily re­mov­ing weapons from a house when some­one is at risk. Bei­das cited the “20-2” rule: Store firearms so that a 20-year-old with two hours of free time couldn’t get them.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study, the teen sui­cide rate is higher in states where gun own­er­ship is com­mon.

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