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Study: 27% of teens with increased risk of suicide have access to firearms

May 22, 2023

About one-quarter of teens with depression or a history of suicidality say they have access to a firearm, a higher rate than those without these mental health struggles.

The data come from one of two new Pediatrics studies on mental health and youth access to firearms.

“Given that developmental studies highlight the role of impulsivity in encouraging … teen risk behaviors and teens’ limitations in fully conceptualizing the potential consequences of their actions, unsupervised access to household firearms raises significant concerns for firearm injury outcomes across the injury spectrum,” authors wrote in “Firearms Availability Among High School Age Youth with Recent Depression or Suicidality,” (Haasz M, et al. Pediatrics. May 22, 2023).

Among U.S. teens, suicide is the second leading cause of death, and firearms play a leading role. Researchers set out to look at access to firearms using a 2020 web survey of a nationally representative group of about 2,000 teens ages 14-18 years.

About 12% of all teens said they personally owned a firearm, and 44% said they had access to one, according to the study. Roughly 20% said they could access one in less than five minutes.

About 23% of teens reported a history of recent depression and/or history of suicidality. Roughly 27% of this group reported having access to a firearm compared to 20% of their peers without these mental health concerns.

Looking more closely at the group with mental health struggles, those with depression were more likely to have access to a firearm than their peers, but access was about the same for teens with and without a history of suicidality.

“Providers should counsel caregivers to recognize escalating signs of mental health crisis and encourage caregivers to either ensure teens have no means of access to firearms in the home, or temporarily remove them, during high-risk periods,” authors wrote.

They emphasized the importance of safe storage in the home as well as the need to address off-site access. About 18% of teens without a firearm in their home said they still could access one.

A second study, “Mental Health Comorbidities, Household Firearm Ownership, and Firearm Access Among Children,” (Hullenaar KL, et al. Pediatrics. May 22, 2023), looked at data on 10- to 15-year-olds and found about 5% reported easy access to a firearm. Children with a history of suicidality living in a non-firearm-owning home were nearly 2.5 times more likely to report easy access than their peers, although authors noted the sample size was small.

“Parents and health care providers should inquire more broadly about youth firearm access outside the home (e.g. friends, neighbors),” authors wrote. “Moreover, clinicians may engage directly with youth to discuss their firearm exposure, because youth may have access to sources of firearms unbeknownst to the parent.”



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