People who die by suicide with a gun are challenging to assist beforehand, and different from those who kill themselves using other means, a new study finds.
"Those who died using a firearm were more likely to have disclosed their suicidal thoughts to other people in the month preceding their death, but it is not clear who they spoke to," said lead study author Allie Bond. She is a doctoral student with the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers University.
People who end their lives using a firearm are also more likely to have had no prior suicide attempts compared to people who use other methods, the new study found.
Many of these tragedies can be prevented, however.
"Educating community members to help recognize risk, discuss safe firearm storage and connect those at risk for suicide with treatment is a key strategy to preventing these deaths and reduce rates of suicide," Bond said in a university news release.
For the study, Bond's team analyzed data from the U.S. National Violent Death Reporting System on more than 234,000 people who died by suicide between 2003 and 2018.
The researchers found that those who killed themselves with a gun were more likely to talk about suicide a month before ending their lives than to ask for help and seek mental health treatment.
Only 26% of those who died by suicide with a gun had a history of treatment, compared with 40% of those who took their own life by other means.
The study also showed that 10% of those who used a gun had a history of previous attempts, compared with one-quarter of people who used other methods.
Another finding was that people who used a gun were much more likely to die on the first suicide attempt. About 90% of suicide attempts involving a gun resulted in death, compared to less than 5% of attempts by all other methods combined.
The study was published online March 14 in JAMA Network Open.
"All of the people in our sample died by suicide - so each person represents a tragic ending - but our findings highlight that we struggle to prevent suicide by firearm because the people who choose to use a firearm often are not showing signs of suicide risk and do not seek out care that might otherwise help them," said study co-author Michael Anestis. He's executive director of the gun violence research center and an associate professor of urban-global public health.
To learn about suicide prevention, go to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.
SOURCE: Rutgers University, news release, March 14, 2022