Infectious Disease

Teens with depression, suicidality have increased perceived access to firearms

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Key takeaways:

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents.
  • Pediatricians can play a role in assisting these them.

High school-aged teens experiencing depression or suicidal ideation have increased perceived access to firearms compared with their peers, according to a study published in Pediatrics.

The finding is especially concerning, the researchers said, because easy firearm access increases the risk for suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among adolescents.

Firearm suicide rates among adolescents have increased by nearly 50% over the past 10 years, according to the authors of the new report, and firearm injuries in general increased significantly among children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know that one of the best ways to prevent someone from actually completing suicide, or having a fatal suicide attempt, is to take away their access to lethal means — or in this case, firearms, which is the most lethal means of suicide, ” Maya Haasz, MD, an assistant professor of pediatric emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado, told Healio.

Haasz and colleagues examined data from a web survey of 1,914 parent-teen duos between June 24, 2020, and July 22, 2020, to generate a nationally representative sample of US teens. Included in the questions were queries regarding personal firearm possession, perceived firearm access and method of firearm attainment, Haasz said.

“We also did a separate analysis where we looked at which of these youth were at elevated risk for suicide,” Haasz said. “So, we looked at whether they had a history of recent depression in the last 2 weeks, or a lifetime history of suicidality, and the reason we identified this subgroup is because we know that these teens are at higher risk for suicide.”

Among the surveyed high-school-aged teens, 22.6% reported experiencing recent depression, suicidal thoughts or both; 11.5% reported personal firearm possession; and 44.2% endorsed firearm access.

Teens with depression or suicidality were 56% more likely (OR = 1.56; 95% CI, 1.07–2.28) to believe they had easy and quick access to a firearm either on their property or off it, the researchers calculated.

Although Haasz and colleagues noted no association between recent depression and/or suicidality and personal firearm possession, teens reporting firearm possession and mental health struggles were more likely to have acquired a firearm by buying or trading for it and less likely to receive it as a gift .

A second study on firearm access in Pediatrics authored by researchers from the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and the University of Washington in Seattle examined the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Social Development study, which included 2,277 children aged 10 to 15 years from five study sites across the US

They examined whether children reported hard or easy access to a firearm, measured by whether it was located on- or off-property of the child’s home and how many minutes or hours it would take to find it. Ultimately, approximately 20% of the children lived in a firearm-owning household, with 5% reporting easy firearm access.

Haasz said there is a role for pediatricians and family practitioners to play in addressing this issue.

“We need to talk to teens about their own firearm access, and we need to do research on the most effective ways to accomplish that,” Haasz added.

References:

Haasz, M et al. pediatrics. 2023;doi:10.1542/peds.2022-059532.

Hullenaar, KL et al. pediatrics. 2023;doi:10.1542/peds.2022-060610.

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