Gun Owners Are Less Likely to Tell Doctors About Suicidal Thoughts

Firearms are the most common means of suicide, and a new study suggests that gun owners are much more likely to contemplate, plan, and attempt suicide.

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Gun Owners Less Likely to Tell Doctors About Suicidal Thoughts
Firearms have been the leading means of suicide for males, and overtook poisoning to become the top method for females in 2020.Paul Campbell/Getty Images; Canva

Even when a gun owner has recently survived a suicide attempt, he or she is much less likely to report suicidal thoughts than a person who doesn't own guns, a new study has found.

For the study, researchers examined survey data on more than 9,100 adults, including almost 3,000 gun owners. Compared with people who didn’t own guns, those who did were 50 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts and roughly twice as likely to plan a method, time, and place to attempt suicide, according to study results published May 11 in JAMA Network Open.

People who own guns were almost four times more likely to attempt suicide, the study found. But gun owners were half as apt to seek help or tell their doctor about these thoughts.

“Part of the reason that we've not been better at preventing suicide is we always try to find, ‘What's the one path that everybody follows?’” said the lead study author,?Craig Bryan, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine, in a statement.

These findings suggest that gun owners may think about suicide differently from other people, and fall through the cracks when healthcare providers use standard suicide screening questions to identify individuals in crisis, Dr. Bryan said.

“Not everyone experiences suicidal ideation in the same way,” Bryan said. “So, maybe our traditional ways of asking about suicidal thoughts are incomplete. Just a simple shift in questioning, adding one more different perspective or a different angle to ask about suicidal thoughts could potentially help us identify people who are in a vulnerable state.”

Gunshots are the leading suicide method, accounting for more than half these fatalities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Over the past two decades, the suicide rate surged 30 percent in the United States, according to the CDC. Firearms have consistently been the leading means of suicide for males, and overtook poisoning to become the top method for females in 2020.

If you are actively in crisis and need immediate support, call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741-741 to reach a trainer counselor with Crisis Text Line.