Let’s talk about another statistic concerning the proliferation of firearms in the United States — suicide.
On Aug. 5, I wrote a column for my blog site concerning the massacres that have now become a “normal” part of our lives.
My focus was on the Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton shootings and noted that “thoughts and prayers” have done nothing since Columbine in 1999 to curb the violence, that Congress must act to get some of these firearms off the streets.
Yet there is another side of the firearms crisis we are experiencing. The availability of firearms used to commit suicide.
There is a mental health crisis in our nation, but it is more than the crazed mass shooter who sees death-by-cop as a natural end. It is the younger and older American who cannot see a solution for what they believe to be an overwhelming situation.
To help prevent suicides, we need more mental health professionals and better training of mental health professionals, teachers and family members.
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health: In 2017, nearly 40,000 men, women and children died from gunshot-related causes, of which 24,000 were suicides.
To put those numbers into perspective, 50,000 American soldiers were killed in the 10 years of the Vietnam War.
For every one successful suicide by a younger American, there are some 25 other attempts. For older Americans, the number is closer to 1 in 4. Suicide by firearms is successful 83% of the time.
In numerous studies, hopelessness seems to be the overpowering precursor to suicide.
Most do not want to die, but they definitely want to end the pain they are experiencing, whether from bullying, the loss of someone or simply unrealistic expectations of life, either real or perceived.
David Hemenway, Ph.D., the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center, writes that “(American) kids have 10 times the gun suicide rate as kids in France and Australia and other countries.”
He continues: “In homes with firearms, 86 percent of the suicides used the firearms. In the homes without firearms, only 6 percent of the suicides used a firearm. … By state or region ... for every age, for both genders, where there are more guns, there are more total suicides.”
In 2014, Missouri’s suicide rate was 16.3 attempts per 100,000, which is higher than the national average of 12.9. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young adults (15-34) in our fair state. One person dies from suicide in Missouri every eight hours.
A major part of the problem is a lack of mental health professionals. U.S. News and World Report reported in 2018 that “nearly 1 in 5 people has some sort of mental health condition, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.”
The article continues: “A 2016 report released by the Health Resources and Services Administration projected the supply of workers in selected behavioral health professions to be approximately 250,000 workers short of the projected demand in 2025.”
Over one-half of the counties in the U.S. are without a psychiatrist.
What can you do if you know someone is or you believe is contemplating suicide?
• Take some time, and research the warning signs.
• Stay with that person.
• Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or the Spanish Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-754-2432.
• Remove anything people might use to harm themselves.
• Take the person to the emergency room or local mental health hospital.
The availability of firearms and the lack of psychiatric professionals add up to a real crisis. Passing “Red Flag” legislation is a good start, along with universal background checks on all firearm sales.
Providing more funding to train more mental health professionals and to conduct reasonable research would certainly go a long way.
But Congress must act to address this crisis. We also need a firm hand in the Missouri legislature to pass legislation.
If 18 other states can do it, including Illinois and Indiana, Missouri certainly can.