What is the role of firearms in suicide?

Updated: Aug 29, 2019
  • Author: Stephen Soreff, MD; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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The leading method of suicide in the United States remains firearms, and is more common in men than women. [47, 48] In 2016, firearms were the most common method used in suicide deaths in the United States, accounting for almost half of all suicide deaths (22,963).

When a person with a depressed mood consumes alcohol and has a handgun available, the situation can easily turn lethal.

Of 44,965 completed suicides in 2016, 22,963 used guns. [47] Therefore, a psychiatrist must inquire not only into the patient's suicidal ideation and plans but also into the presence of firearms. Clinicians also must know their state statutes concerning persons with mental illness possessing firearms. [49] Of interest, the limiting of the purchasing of firearms by local and state background checks has decreased the rate of suicide by guns. [50]

Data from the National Institute of Mental Health on the differences between men and women and the method of suicide are as follows [41] :

  • Suicide by firearms - Males (56.6%), females (32.1%)

  • Suicide by suffocation - Males (26.1%), females (25.3%)

  • Suicide by poisoning - Males (9.5%), females (33%)

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