Firearms too accessible for teens with mental illness
Though they have been diagnosed with a mental health issue, including possible increased risk of suicide, U.S. teens report easy access to firearms in their homes, according to one new study.
The study, led by Dr. Joseph Simonetti of the University of Washington’s School of Medicine’s Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, was published this week in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The findings show that 41 percent of teens diagnosed with a mental health issue say they live in a home with a firearm and have easy access to it.
The researchers studied data from more than 10,000 U.S. teens, ages 13 to 18, between 2001 and 2004. They found that older, male, non-Hispanic teens reported the most access to firearms in the home. Those living in rural or wealthy households also reported the easiest access.
“Adolescents with risk factors for suicide were just as likely to report in-home firearm access as those without such risk factors,” the researchers concluded. “Given that firearms are the second most common means of suicide among adolescents, further attention to developing and implementing evidence-based strategies to decrease firearm access in this age group is warranted.”
According to the researchers, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among U.S. teens. Previous studies have shown that risk to be lower when living in homes where safe storage of firearms are practiced.
Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, clinical psychologist with Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, says knowing the possible risks a teen may be exposed to when experiencing thoughts of harming themselves or others is an extremely important aspect of their care.
“When I’m meeting with a teen at risk for suicide, I’m going to ask about access to harmful objects, including firearms,” Dr. Roberts says. “It’s very important to talk about safety—not just in their home, but in the homes of family and friends they may be spending time with. This is a crucial discussion to have with the teen and the parents.”
She says this extends not just to firearms, but to knives and other sharp objects and medications, as well.
“If a teen is at risk, I would educate parents on the serious risks to safety and strongly encourage the family to remove the firearm from home,” Dr. Roberts says. “If not removed, it should be stored appropriately, locked up, the key hidden and the ammunition locked up separately. It’s all about education, understanding those risk factors to keep the teen as safe as possible.”
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.