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Teens who have access to a gun are more likely to have a history of attempting suicide or having suicidal thoughts, according to a new study. Researchers from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago found that one-third of all adolescents entering the emergency room had moderate to severe symptoms of depression. Concerningly, 40 percent of these children had access to a firearm.
Specifically, study authors say the odds of a teen attempting suicide in the past were 1.5 times higher among kids who could get a hold of a gun immediately within their home or within a 24-hour period.
“Our findings underscore the importance of screening all adolescents who present to the ED for suicide risk and access to firearms,” says lead author Samaa Kemal, MD, MPH, a pediatric emergency medicine fellow, in a media release. “This is even more critical now that we are in the midst of a youth mental health crisis.”
According to the researchers, the Joint Commission requires all children over 12 to receive a screening for suicide risk. If doctors discover such a risk, the commission recommends that a second screening looks into that child’s access to firearms. Unfortunately, the study authors say that second screening is often inconsistent in emergency departments.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among U.S. adolescents. Moreover, the child suicide rate has nearly doubled over the last decade. Between 2015 and 2020, the study notes that 44 percent of suicides among 14 to 18-year-olds involved a gun. Seven in 10 suicide attempts involved firearms that the child obtained within their own home.
The study examined data involving more than 15,000 patients between 14 and 18 admitted to a children’s hospital emergency room between June 2013 and March 2020. Results show 14 percent of these children had relatively easy access to a firearm.
A history of sexual assault also increased the odds of attempting suicide. Meanwhile, young patients who reported verbal bullying, intimate partner violence, or abuse by a caregiver had a higher risk of having suicidal thoughts.
“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,” Dr. Kemal concludes. “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.”