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Access to guns in the home puts teens at greater risk for suicide

By HealthDay News
Access to guns in the home puts teens at greater risk for suicide
Teens and preteens with access to guns had about 1.5 times higher odds for a prior suicide attempt or current suicidal ideation, a recent study found. File Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo

Teens who have access to guns are at a higher risk for suicide or suicide attempts, new research shows.

Compounding the situation, about one-third of all U.S. adolescents coming to the emergency department for any reason have moderate or severe depressive symptoms, suggesting high mental health needs among this population, the study authors said.

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And more than 40% of those depressed teens have access to a gun, the researchers found.

"Our findings underscore the importance of screening all adolescents who present to the emergency department for suicide risk and access to firearms," said lead study author Dr. Samaa Kemal. She is a pediatric emergency medicine fellow at Children's Hospital of Chicago. "This is even more critical now that we are in the midst of a youth mental health crisis."

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Teens and preteens with access to guns had about 1.5 times higher odds for a prior suicide attempt or current suicidal ideation, the study found. And this was prior to the pandemic, when emergency departments saw increased youth mental health needs.

"Universal mental health screening of adolescents is particularly important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to both increased firearm availability and worsening indicators of youth mental health," Kemal said in a hospital news release.

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"Proper screening for both suicidality and firearm access can create the opportunity to offer effective firearm safety counseling, such as keeping all firearms locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition, as well as linkage to mental health resources. We must do everything possible to prevent tragic deaths among teens who are struggling," Kemal added.

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For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 15,000 patients aged 14 to 18 years seen at a U.S. children's hospital emergency department between June 2013 and March 2020.

About 14% of the teens reported having access to a firearm in the home or the ability to get one within the next 24 hours.

Among the issues that increased the odds of a prior suicide attempt were a history of sexual assault. In addition, verbal bullying, intimate partner violence, and/or abuse by a caregiver significantly increased odds of current suicidal ideation and a prior suicide attempt.

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Suicide death among U.S. teens has almost doubled in the past 10 years and is the second-leading cause of death for that age group. About 44% of suicide deaths in the 14- to 18-year-old age group were caused by guns between 2015 and 2020, the researchers noted.

About 70% of firearm-related suicide attempts involved weapons obtained within the victim's household.

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Currently, the Joint Commission mandates that all children over 12 years old be screened for suicide risk. If this risk is found, then screening for access to lethal means is recommended.

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The findings were published online recently in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on suicide, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

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