Story at a glance
- Suicide rates may be increasing due to the pandemic, experts warn.
- Guns are the most lethal form of suicide.
- There are steps you can take to reduce suicide risk for yourself and loved ones.
Concerns about the potential for increased suicide rates due to economic stress and social isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic is why the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence (EFSGV) is urging reduced access to firearms, an action EFSGV says could save the lives of those with suicide risk factors.
“Our goal is not to stop the sale of firearms. Rather, we strive to prevent gun injury and death in all its forms, including suicide, by using a public health model,” says Josh Horwitz, executive director of EFSGV, a public think tank which is focused on evidence-based policy solutions to reduce gun violence. “This means preventing people who pose a danger to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing firearms. Separating at-risk individuals from firearms does not violate the Second Amendment and will save lives."
According to a report by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “[reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal means] is an important part of a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention.” The study indicates that when lethal means are made less available, suicide rates by that method decline, and frequently, suicide rates overall subsequently decline.
For those who believe that if people want to commit suicide, they will find a way even without firearms, Dakota Jablon, suicide prevention specialist at EFSGV says “it’s really important to debunk the myth that suicide is inevitable. Research shows that few people substitute a different method for suicide if their preferred method is not available,” says Jablon. “It’s also important to note that 90 percent of people who attempt suicide do not eventually go on to die by suicide,” she says. “If people can make it through a suicidal crisis without access to firearms, they are likely to survive.”
According to EFSGV, research shows that access to firearms in the home can increase the risk of suicide more than three-fold. "While firearm ownership does not make a person more suicidal, firearm access increases the risk that an individual will die by suicide if they attempt. Firearms are so dangerous when someone is at risk for suicide because they are the most lethal suicide attempt method."
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EFSGV recommends this to keep people safer: “For people who already own guns, storing them outside of the home is the safest option when a person is at increased risk of suicide,” says Jablon. “People may choose to voluntarily give their firearms to friends or family members (if state and local law permits), a federally licensed firearms dealer, or a local police department when they know they are at risk of harming themselves. Friends and family can work with at-risk individuals to help safely and responsibly remove guns from the home."
Though current data is not yet available on suicide deaths that may be related to the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) is working to calculate, in general, excess deaths associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. From the CDC — “Estimates of excess deaths can provide information about the burden of mortality potentially related to COVID-19, beyond the number of deaths that are directly attributed to COVID-19. Excess deaths are typically defined as the difference between observed numbers of deaths and expected numbers.”
The CDC notes, “Upward trends in other causes of death (e.g., suicide, drug overdose, heart disease) may contribute to excess deaths in some jurisdictions. Future analyses of cause-specific excess mortality may provide additional information about these patterns.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, there is help and support now.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Crisis counselors are also available 24/7 at the Crisis Textline. Text HOME to 741741.
Additionally, Be the One to Help Save a Life recommends these five steps to help someone in need:
- "Ask —Asking the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” communicates that you’re open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Asking in this direct, unbiased manner, can open the door for effective dialogue about their emotional pain."
- "Keep them safe — Show support for someone during the times when they are thinking of suicide, by immediately creating a safer environment. Put time and distance between the person and their chosen method, especially methods that have shown higher lethality, like firearms.
- Be there — Offer physical presence and emotional support.
- Help them connect — Introduce them to supportive and helpful community resources. Share the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or other help lines. You can also assist them in creating a safety plan — for example, the My3 app, which helps you stay connected with others when you are having thoughts of suicide.
- Follow up — Make sure to reconnect with them to see how they’re doing. Studies have shown a reduction in the number of deaths by suicide when continued support was involved.
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