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Almost 20 Percent of Youth At Risk for Suicide Have Guns in Their Home

Update Date: May 06, 2013 02:43 PM EDT

Suicide is the second leading cause of death of young adults and of adolescents between the ages of 10 to 24 years old. While many young people who commit suicide have a history of mental health problems, many more - about 40 percent of youth who commit suicide - have no such history whatsoever, which means that their suicides often catch their families off guard. Half of youth who commit suicide do so by firearm; 20 percent of youth who are considered at risk for suicide have access to a firearm in their home.

The study was conducted among 524 patients who were between the ages of 10 and 21 years old. All of these patients were visiting emergency departments in Washington, D.C. The children were asked to fill out a questionnaire that included 17 queries. Of all of the children, 151 - or 29 percent - were found to be at risk for suicide, while 17 percent of youth reported that they had guns in their home. Of the children who were at risk for suicide, 31 percent of teens knew how to access the guns in their home, 31 percent of teens knew how to access bullets and 15 percent knew how to access both.

The 17-question examination has since been condensed into four questions that health workers can use to survey youth. Because so many people who commit suicide exhibited no signs before the action, the researchers suggest that health workers screen all children and adolescents for suicide risk.

"According to our data, when asked their opinion, nearly all of the kids in our study were in favor of suicide screening in the ED," study senior author Lisa Horowitz said in a statement. "Our study shows that if you ask kids directly about suicide, they will tell you what they are thinking."

The study will be presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting.

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