Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 8:41PM
Dr. Payton

From the Harvard Public Health magazine of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health report on "Guns and Suicide...the hidden toll" by Madeline Drexler, Editor of Harvard Public Health magazine. Ms. Drexler summarizes data on the association of suicide and gun ownership.  She reports that many more people kill themselves with guns [19,392 in 2010] then are murdered with guns [11078 also from 2010]. Also from 2010, 38,364 people killed themselves and over half used guns. Thus, suicide by gun was more than all other methods combined.  About 85% of suicide attempts with guns end in death while only 3% of poisoining end in death.  There are a number of reasons that someone would become suicidal and yet the outcome of these thoughts are directly linked to the method used.  A 2008 study by Davis and Hemenway [New England Journal of Medicine 2008; 359:672-3] found that suicide using guns was 3.7 times more likely for men and 7.9 times more likely for women in states with highest rates of gun ownership. Estimates now are that one in three households have at least one gun. Davis and Hemenway also found that while the populations [from 2001-2005 data] were almost even between states with the highest gun ownership [47% of households had guns] compared to states with the lowest gun ownership [15% of households had guns] there were 16,577 suicides by firearms in high gun ownership states and 4,257 suicides by firearms in lower gun ownership states, while suicides by other means were virtually equal [9,172 compared to 9,279].  So of course more suicides occurred in states with more guns but what also seems significant is that there was no difference in rates mental illness, divorces, money stress, etc that might have been a reason for more suicides by firearms in high gun ownership states compared to low gun ownership states.  Also, a 2001 study from Houston, Texas [reported by Davis and Hemenway] looked at the time between someone first deciding to kill themselves and their suicide attempt.  They found that 24% said it was less than 5 minutes; 48% said less than 20 minutes; 70% less than one hour; and 86% less than 8 hours. This highlights the increased risk for suicide when there is access to guns as the decision is made within 20 minutes almost half the time.  This suggests that suicidal berhavior may frequently be impulsive and leads to death if guns are available.  This would explain why more people kill themselves in areas with more guns as the impulse to kill oneself may be more frequent than we think it is. Also of importance is that 9 out of 10 times there are no more suicide attempts after the first one.  Thus if they survive the attempt they are not likely to try again.  Put this with the fact that nearly 90% of suicide attempts with guns end up in death and it is clear how important it is to keep guns out of the hands of suicidal people. 

All of the above highlights the danger of access to guns as this significantly increases the number of suicides.  People who disagree with these findings or feel that access to guns is not the issue point to the fact that there are a number of other countries that have strict gun control laws and yet have significantly higher rates of suicide.  My response would be that that does not change the reality that access to guns dramatically increases the number of people who committ suicide in the United States.  This would suggest that if access to guns in these other countries were increased that their rates of suicide would increase as well.

So what is the solution?  One person suggested always storing guns without bullets and store them outside the home.  Others suggest that fewer guns is more likely to lead to fewer suicides because it is less likely that people will change their behavior patterns and store guns outside of their homes.  This is especially true if people feel a need to have their guns close at hand to protect themselves.  This then points to a need to help people feel that they do not need to protect themselves by having quick access to guns.  This suggest to me that we would have to lower the stress level in people and help them to feel part of the larger community of humans as isolation inceases stress and fearfulness.

So, how do people lower their stress level?  I have written a number of blogs about that. To lower our stress levels it seems to require that we let go of our judging and stereotyping others and begin to see that we are more alike than not and that we need each other in order to be happy and feel fulfilled in our lives. 

Article originally appeared on Leading Asheville, North Carolina Psychiatrist for over 30 years (
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