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Gun rights and the risk of suicide
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With lots of talk about gun rights, concealed weapon permits and school resource officers, it seems we’ve let one group that is also affected by gun ownership slip under the radar.

National Public Radio (NPR) reported this week that that older men are at high risk for suicide and are “far more likely to kill themselves if they have access to firearms.” Nancy Shute’s article, “Should doctors ask older people if they have guns at home?” highlights the increasing rate of suicide among middle-aged to older men who suffer from depression or “cognitive problems.”

Suicide is a sad reality that most of us encounter at some point of our lives through our connections to family or friends. Some of us, unfortunately, encounter the issue of suicide multiple times in our lifetime. It’s preventable, but most times we don’t know when someone is suffering from experiences and thoughts that cause someone to consider death until it’s too late. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that there were more than 38,000 suicides in 2010; more than 19,000 of those were “firearm suicides.” The question: “Does this person have access to a firearm?” should be as routine a question as “Should this person be able to continue driving?” according to NPR.

The New York Times cited the CDC in its May 2 article “Suicide rates rise sharply in the U.S.,” and reported that more people die of suicide now than car accidents. There were little more than 33,500 car accidents in 2010. Men are more likely to commit suicide than women and are more likely to use firearms, according to NPR, and gun ownership is directly related to higher suicide rates. Although white men over 85 have the highest suicide rate of any group, with 47 per 100,000, middle age men are also at risk, the NPR article said. Suicide rates are still “vastly underreported,” professor of sociology Julie Phillips is reported saying in the Times article. Forty-seven out of 100,000 may not seem like a lot, but suicide has so many devastating psychological and economic effects on the people that are left behind.

Suicide rates in South Carolina have increased since 1999. South Carolina has about five suicide attempts per day and six suicides every five days, according to Mental Health of America (MHA). According MHA’s website, suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students, the third leading cause for ages 15-24 and the 11th leading cause for the overall population. Mental illness, including depression, is a great indicator in likelihood of suicide: 50 percent of suicide victims suffered from major depression, and the suicide rate of those who suffer from depression is eight times higher than that of someone who hasn’t been depressed.

Social isolation and lack of coping skills are cited as a cause of depression, although research is unclear, according to the NPR article. Job insecurity, finances mixed with the burden of family responsibility could also be added to the list, in addition to health issues with high insurance costs and that weird thing we do called defining ourselves by our job title can surely bring us down if we lose the job for whatever reason.

Marshall Kapp, a professor and director of the Center for Innovative Collaboration in Medicine and Law at Florida State University is quoted in the NPR article saying that so much attention has been placed on the safety of children when there are firearms in the home, but older patients are at risk too.

“An older person who is seriously compromised by mental disorders is, in many respects, as helpless and vulnerable and dependent as a child would be,” Kapp said.

In the ongoing conversation on gun rights, it’s critical to include the growing group of suicide victims, regardless of age or gender. Although I’m sure some will disagree, unnecessary harm to oneself is just as bad as harm done to others because both affect us all.