There is an urgent need to focus on suicide by firearm among youth and young adults. During the past decade, the rate of firearm-related deaths (including suicide, homicide, and accidental death) of people aged 18 to 24 has increased by 8%. In particular, the rate of suicide by firearm has increased by 34.69%, highly contributing to this overall increase. Among this population, suicide by firearm ranks first out of all methods of suicide, in part because of its extreme lethality. Furthermore, young populations are more likely to be susceptible to circumstances facilitating suicide because of their impulsivity amid a period of biological, psychological, and social development. Understanding the risk factors in these circumstances can inform suicide prevention strategies.
This study uses human ecological theory to identify the relationship between personal, familial, and social risk factors (e.g., adverse life events) and suicide by firearm.
The study uses a dataset from the National Violent Death Reporting System provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports all deaths caused by “intentional use of physical force or power” in the U.S. The dataset included firearm fatalities involving people aged 18 to 24 (2011~2014, N=6,556).
The manner of firearm death is a dependent variable (suicide or other manner of death). Demographic characteristics include age, gender, and race. Physical and mental health characteristics include physical and mental health problems, depressed mood, and alcohol and substance abuse. Family characteristics and childhood experiences include relationship problems within the family, history of child abuse, and financial problems. School, job-related or legal problems, and death of family or friend are included as adverse life events. All variables are dichotomous except age (continuous) and race (categorical). A binary logistical regression model is used.
The model predicted probabilities of suicide among youth and young adults (χ2=4538.23(17), p<.001). Females were less likely to die by firearm-suicide compared to males (OR=.54, p<.001). White people were more likely to commit suicide compared to black or Hispanic (OR=18.37 and 5.75, p<.001). Physical (OR=16.91) and mental health problems (OR=14.68), depressed mood (OR=46.28), and alcohol problems (OR=3.29) were significantly related to increased probabilities of suicide by firearm (p<.001). Family problems (OR=2.94) and financial problems (OR=15.72) were also related to increased probabilities of suicide, as well as adverse experiences related to school, job, and legal issues (OR=22.28, 27.75, 15.93, p<.001). It was noteworthy that the death of a family member or close friend highly increased the probability of suicide (OR=114.45, p<.001).
Conclusions and Implications
Findings identified the role of personal, familial, and social risk characteristics as predictors of suicide by firearm. These results could be utilized by providers in child protective services, family supportive services, and mental health services to intervene with those at high risk of suicide. Findings also provide empirical grounds for future research to evaluate the effectiveness of these services on suicide reduction among these populations, as well as policy recommendations for intervening upon societal risk factors.