Study spotlights link between mental illness, gun-related suicide




Enacting risk-based gun removal laws and prohibiting guns from people involuntarily detained in short-term psychiatric hospitalization may have a positive impact on gun-related suicide and violent crime among people with serious mental illnesses.

Those are among the recommendations published June 6 by Jeffrey W. Swanson, Ph.D., and his associates, who studied 81,704 adults diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression in two large Florida counties between 2002 and 2011 (Health Aff. 2016 Jun 6;35[6]:1067-75. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2016.0017).

Dr. Jeffrey Swanson

Dr. Jeffrey Swanson

Dr. Swanson and his associates found that 62% of arrests from gun crimes and 28% of suicides by gun involved individuals who were not legally permitted to have a gun. In addition, they found that suicide was nearly four times as prevalent among adults diagnosed with a serious mental illness, compared with their counterparts in the general population (64.4 vs.17.7 per 100,000 persons).

Also, 20% of suicides among adults with a serious mental illness were by firearm, compared with 48% of adults in the general Florida population, reported Dr. Swanson, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, Durham, N.C.

Gun violence by suicide claims the lives of 33,000 people each year in the United States, and two-thirds of the country’s gun fatalities are suicides, Dr. Swanson said in a video describing his study.

“We’re focused on laws that restrict access to guns as public health interventions,” Dr. Swanson said. “One of the things that sticks with me is there’s a lost public health opportunity, because people with mental illnesses ... who end their life in suicide often are not going to be prohibited people – they can go and legally buy a gun on the day that they use one to end their life. But many of them actually are known to the mental health care system. That’s the opportunity. States could say, ‘let’s use this as a time to separate that individual from guns.’ ”

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program in Public Health Law Research, the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, and the Elizabeth K. Dollard Charitable Trust.

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