Study co-authors Jonathan Singer of Temple University and Karen Slovak of Ohio University said interviews with clinicians suggest frank discussion of guns is key to helping rural families with children at risk of suicide.
"The clinicians -- including social workers and counselors -- told us guns were so prevalent in their communities, they were just part of the furniture," Singer said in a statement. "So a big part of their job is making the invisible, visible."
Once a clinician determines a child is at risk for suicide, it is up to the parents to bridge the gap between the clinician's initial assessment and follow-up treatment -- which might include anything from short-term therapy to hospitalization to long-term counseling and medication -- the researchers said.
Parents would often be resistant, play down the risk, or be in shock at the news their child might be suicidal, the study found. In addition to addressing these barriers, physicians must address the immediate safety issue of a gun in the home, Singer said.
"In rural areas, we don't need to educate parents about guns. Everyone knows how they work. Instead we need to remind families they have guns and they are lethal," Singer said. "The conversation needs to focus on keeping guns secure and limiting access to guns. Clinicians need to say, 'Your son could use one of your guns to kill himself.'"
The findings were published in the journal Child & Family Social Work.