Firearm safety may be an important suicide prevention strategy for individuals with a terminal illness. New research led by the UW Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center’s Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program found that firearm access was an important consideration for terminally ill persons at risk of suicide. The study was published December 2022 in Psychiatric Services.
Researchers examined data on persons with terminal illness who died from suicide between 2003-2018 from the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). Using a technique to group similar terminally ill suicide decedents based on mental illness or substance use disorders, suicidal thoughts & behaviors and mechanism choice, researchers found four major typologies: depression and nonfirearm methods, previously stated suicidal intent and firearm use, alcohol/ substance use disorder and nonfirearm methods, and those described only by having used a firearm. The largest group, making up 54% of our sample, was characterized by firearms use in the absence of other known suicide risk factors. Screening for psychiatric and substance use disorders alone may not identify terminally ill persons who are at increased suicide risk, particularly for those who have a firearm in the home.
“Broadly implementing a public health approach that emphasizes lethal means assessment and firearm safety planning in specialty care settings, where many terminally ill persons receive treatment, may help address suicide in this high-risk group,” says lead researcher, Dr. Laura Prater, Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program associate director.
This study emphasizes how terminally ill persons may benefit from tailored interventions in specialty care settings to address firearm safety.
Authors on this publication represented the UW School of Medicine, Departments of Psychiatry, Behavioral Health Science, and Pediatrics; UW School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology; UW School of School of Social Work, Social Development Research Group.