Suicide Prevention and…Guns?

By: Sarah Mannaga

Suicide is a serious public health problem affecting thousands of Canadians each year. The prevalence of suicide can be attributed to a variety of factors, as it is a complex issue. Risk factors include a history of mental illness, feelings of hopelessness, and barriers to accessing proper treatment. These risk factors may be rather intuitive, and rightly so, these factors are highly correlated with national and global suicide rates [1]. An often overlooked contributor to the prevalence of suicide however, is firearm accessibility or more broadly, access to highly lethal methods. According to Canada’s Department of Justice, approximately 80% of firearm related deaths in Canada are suicides [2]. The method by which someone chooses to die is crucial. A less lethal method increases the likelihood that the individual will be unsuccessful, giving them the opportunity to seek help. Hanging, jumping from high ground, and overdosing on drugs are all significantly less fatal than a gunshot to the head or chest [3]. This disproportionally affects men, both adolescents and adults, as they are nine (9) times more likely to use guns as a method to kill themselves when compared to women of the same age [3]. Reducing access to guns could help prevent suicides. This has been seen most famously in Australia. In 1996, Australia confiscated one fifth (1/5) of the guns circulating in the country, which resulted in suicide rates reducing by more than 50% in subsequent years [4]. A similar effect was seen in a case study on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). In a conscious effort by the IDF Mental Health Department to prioritize suicide prevention, a policy change regarding firearms was instituted. This policy prohibited soldiers from bringing weapons home with them on weekend leave. Following this change in policy, total suicide rates reduced by 40% with firearm suicides reducing by 70% [5]. In terms of weekdays, however, there were no significant changes. Reducing access to the most lethal suicide method is a simple and effective approach to suicide prevention. In the public conversation about gun ownership and control, the evidence for stricter gun legislation is often cases of homicides such as mass shootings. These tragedies are important to consider, as they amount in vast devastation for individuals, families and communities. In addition to this narrative, the evidence for suicide is arguably much stronger as the vast majority of gun deaths in Canada are suicides. It is conceivable that the relationship between gun accessibility and suicide rates is overlooked or underreported in mass media because of the stigma attached to suicide. Regardless of personal beliefs, it is important to reduce mortality rates by addressing everyone that is affected, with special consideration to the most vulnerable populations.

This is one of the many ways to help prevent suicides. For more information go to http://www.suicideprevention.ca. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone. You can call Distress Centre Niagara at any time, any day:

St. Catharines/Niagara Falls and surrounding areas: (905) 688 – 3711

Port Colborne/Wainfleet and surrounding areas: (905) 734 – 1212

Fort Erie and surrounding areas: (905) 382 – 0689

Grimsby/West Lincoln: (905) 563 – 6674


References

[1] Suicide: Risk and Protective Factors. (2016). Retrieved October 07, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/riskprotectivefactors.html

[2] Firearms, Accidental Deaths, Suicides and Violent Crime: An Updated Review of the Literature with Special Reference to the Canadian Situation. (2015). Retrieved October 07, 2016, from http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/csj-sjc/jsp-sjp/wd98_4-dt98_4/p4.html#a4

[3] Shenassa, E. D., Catlin, S. N., & Buka, S. L. (2003). Lethality of firearms relative to other suicide methods: A population based study. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 57(2), 120-124. doi:10.1136/jech.57.2.120

[4] Chapman, S., Alpers, P., Agho, K., & Jones, M. (2015). Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms: Faster falls in firearm deaths, firearm suicides, and a decade without mass shootings. Injury Prevention Inj Prev, 21(5), 355-362. doi:10.1136/ip.2006.013714rep

[5] Lubin, G., Werbeloff, N., Halperin, D., Shmushkevitch, M., Weiser, M., & Knobler, H. Y. (2010, November). Decrease in Suicide Rates After a Change of Policy Reducing Access to Firearms in Adolescents: A Naturalistic Epidemiological Study. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 40(5), 421-424. doi:10.1521/suli.2010.40.5.421

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