While firearm suicide overall increased about 2% during the pandemic, the rate among young people increased 15% and nearly half of all suicide attempts by young people involve a gun, researchers with Everytown For Gun Safety found. Experts have not pinned down exactly what is causing more young people to turn to suicide with guns, the report notes. But increased anxiety and depression, likely exacerbated by the pandemic, along with the impacts of social media and cyberbullying are among the theorized drivers.
"The research shows pretty clearly that people who struggle with mental illness are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crimes," Everytown research director Sarah Burd-Sharps told ABC News. "That said, certainly knowing the warning signs and learning to talk about mental health -- particularly, we're talking about young people -- so the way we talk about mental health with young people in our lives is a huge part of the solution."
"One of the most effective things we can do to help young people in crisis is to keep it out of their hands," Burd-Sharps said.
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The report's authors point to "red flag" laws as a plausible solution that allow for temporary restrictions on firearm ownership when a person is determined to pose an extreme risk to themselves or others. So far, 19 states have passed such laws that allow local authorities and family members to petition in civil court for the restriction of a person's firearm access, according to Everytown.
"Research shows they save lives," Burd-Sharps said. "They very much prevent youth suicide, so it's it's one of the most important policies that can reduce this, tragic spike in youth gun suicide."
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Safe storage measures for parents who own guns as well as waiting periods for gun purchases are among tools that can help create a safety buffer when someone is in the throes of a mental health episode, Burd-Sharps added.
The firearm-related increases documented in the new report track with overall increases in teen and young adult suicide in recent years. Between 2007 and 2018 the suicide rate among those age 10 to 24 increased nearly 60%, according to the CDC.
The split-second between pulling the trigger of a firearm and the projectile's impact makes suicide attempts with guns much more lethal too. Overall, acts of suicide are fatal in 8.5% of cases while acts of suicide involving a firearm are fatal 90% of the time, according to a 2019 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Suicides have long been a driver of firearm-related deaths. More than half of all gun deaths in 2020 were suicides, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center report.
Boys and young men are disproportionately afflicted by firearm suicide and are seven times more likely to kill themselves with a gun compared to their female peers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S. are among those hit hardest by the increased suicide rate, Burd-Sharps said. A lack of access to mental health care resulting in higher rates of untreated depression as well as traumatic exposure to discrimination and racism are among the driving factors.
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Suicide is the third leading cause of death among children and young people ages 10 to 24, according to the CDC.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 [TALK] for free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.