Access To Gun Shops Increases Suicide Risk For The Uninsured

By Kelly Burch 09/06/19

Over a 10-year period, suicide rates increased 41%.

man grabbing for his gun
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Having access to gun shops but lacking access to health care contributes to rising suicide rates among rural Americans, according to a new study. 

The study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, found that suicide rates are increasing for all Americans, especially those who live in rural areas. Between 1996 and 2016, suicides in the U.S. increased 41%.

Suburbs vs Rural Areas

There was a large difference in the risk of suicide in suburban versus rural areas. Between 2014 and 2016, metropolitan residents had a suicide rate of 17.6 deaths per 100,000, while rural residents had a much higher rate of 22 deaths per 100,000. 

“While our findings are disheartening, we’re hopeful that they will help guide efforts to support Americans who are struggling, especially in rural areas where suicide has increased the most and the fastest,” lead researcher Danielle Steelesmith, a postdoctoral fellow at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, said in a news release

Counties with the highest suicide rates were found in Western states including Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming; in Appalachian states including Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia; and in the Ozarks, including Arkansas and Missouri.

Researchers identified factors that contributed to increased risk for suicide. 

“Suicide is so complex, and many factors contribute, but this research helps us understand the toll and some of the potential contributing influences based on geography, and that could drive better efforts to prevent these deaths,” Steelesmith said. 

Suicide rates were higher where people had access to a gun store, said Cynthia Fontanella, a study co-author and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at Ohio State. 

“The data showing that suicides were higher in counties with more gun shops—specifically in urban areas—highlights the potential to reduce access to methods of suicide that can increase the chances an at-risk person will die,” she explained. 

Service Members

In addition, areas with more veterans had higher rates of suicide, highlighting the prevalence of mental health issues among former service members. People who had lower socioeconomic prospects and lack of access to resources were also more likely to die by suicide, a trend that was pronounced in rural areas. 

“In cities, you have a core of services that are much easier to get to in many cases. You may have better access to job assistance, food banks and nonprofits that might all contribute to less desperation among residents,” Steelesmith said.

The study authors point to ways that suicide risk could be reduced, including increasing social supports in rural areas and community engagement so that residents are aware of these resources. 

“For example, all communities might benefit from strategies that enhance coping and problem-solving skills, strengthen economic support and identify and support those who are at risk for suicide,” Fontanella said.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.