Regular readers will recall that my husband is in the peculiar situation of being a gun-owning Brady Center supporter. And the Brady Center, for all that it’s known for promoting background checks, and has its share of members who would like nothing more than to confiscate all guns in America and become another UK or Australia, their official statements are more moderate, and one of their projects is a call to “suicide-proof your home“, that is, urging parents to keep guns out of reach of teens, as well as watching for medications that could be used for an overdose. As they write:
Most gun deaths in the country, 19,990 – more than 60%, are suicides. These tragedies rarely make the news, get candlelight vigils, or prompt statements from our political leaders. . . .
If we want to dramatically reduce deaths caused by guns, we need to put as much focus on the preventing gun suicides as we do on gun homicides. And we can start at home. Three years ago, we launched our Suicide-Proof Your Home initiative based on the sobering fact that eight out of ten children and teens who kill themselves do so with a gun from a family member – usually a parent. . . .
Anyone who has parented an adolescent knows impulsivity can be an issue. One out of every four people who attempt suicide will spend just five minutes – around the same amount of time you’ll spend reading this blog – contemplating killing themselves before they make an attempt, 70% decide in less than an hour. Because suicide can often be an impulsive decision, limiting access to guns allows time for the suicidal impulse to pass or lessen in intensity.
Will limiting access to guns prevent every suicide attempt? No, but we can reduce the chances that they will die.
As I write this, for the second time in two years, someone I know is dealing with the suicide of a loved one, though in neither case did I know the individual personally.
And in both cases, it’s not the teenager in the family, but a husband and father.
It bugs me, really, that we have this story that it’s teenagers that kill themselves, so that suicide can be solved by such steps as suicide prevention programs in the schools, or by keeping guns locked away or stored away from the home, or maybe a few TV ads with encouraging words. “It’s a phase they go through,” we tell ourselves, “but if we can just teach them that ‘it gets better’ and they have a wonderful life ahead of themselves, they won’t do it.”
But statistically, my husband is more likely to commit suicide than my son, and my father, even more likely still.
And there are no easy answers, when we’re no longer talking about the overblown crises of adolescence but the very real difficulties adults face. I also suspect that the notion that “suicide is impulsive so we just have to make it harder” doesn’t apply to adults dealing with mental health crises, or whatever sort of disorder and chaos in their lives compels them to kill themselves.
The highest rates for women are in the 45 – 64 age group, and the rates for men increase in every age group, and, in particular, jumped considerably in the past 15 years, and are roughly 3 x the rate for women, for this age group, but by far the highest rate for men is in the age 75+ group.
And suicide is specifically a white working class problem.
The CDC splits out the data by racial/ethnic group and sex, which shows the rates for whites as about 2.5 times the rates for blacks and Hispanics, for men, and 3 times the rate, for women.
But in an analysis of the age 45 – 54 age group, the data is even more stark, as the rates split out as follows (2013 data):
Hispanics, 7.3 per 100,000.
Whites, all, 25.5
Whites, BA or higher, 16.2
Whites, some college, 19.6.
Whites, high school or less, 38.8.
These are stunning numbers.
Which says that the availability of guns is only a part of the problem.
And I don’t have an answer. Heck, there are plenty of people who get paid to study data all day long and try to come up with answers, and still don’t have answers, or disagree on what those answers are. But it bugs me that we don’t even talk about this, and pretend that suicide is a teenager’s problem.
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