Data from Great Depression and Great Recession Suggest COVID-19 Could Bring a 20 to 30 Percent Increase in Firearm Suicides in 2020
Steps to Address Risks Include Strengthening Gun Laws, Promoting Secure Firearm Storage and Increasing Access to Mental Health Services and Economic Support
Resources for Journalists On Responsibly Covering Gun Suicide are Available Here
NEW YORK — Data from the Great Depression and the Great Recession suggest the economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis could bring a 20 to 30 percent increase in firearm suicides in the U.S. this year, resulting in 20 additional gun suicides per day in 2020, according to a new analysis from Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an arm of Everytown for Gun Safety.
Everytown’s analysis draws on historical data to project an additional 5,000 to 7,000 firearm suicides in 2020 in addition to the 23,000 gun suicides in an average year in the U.S. It also includes recommendations for policymakers on how to prevent or reduce this increase.
“We’re facing a collateral public health crisis,” said Sarah Burd-Sharps, director of research at Everytown for Gun Safety. “The economic shocks from COVID-19 will continue to reverberate through American homes long after the pandemic subsides, and so will these serious risks of gun suicide. The hopeful news is that there are steps we can take immediately to prevent this pandemic from magnifying our firearm suicide epidemic. The time for action is now.”
“As uncertainty mounts and circumstances related to the pandemic, self-isolation and quarantining continue to rapidly change, we need to look at how this might impact suicide risk for people who have access to firearms,” said Colleen Creighton, CEO of the American Association of Suicidology. “Means safety is of critical importance at a time when significant life changes surrounding the pandemic, like loss of a job, compounding financial stressors, or loss of relationships, can escalate suicide risk. Putting time and space between someone who is experiencing a suicide crisis and their firearm is necessary to save lives, especially in a time of global crisis.”
“As so many of us know too well, firearm suicide was already a crisis before COVID-19,” said Marit Brock, an Everytown Survivor Fellow whose brother Pip took his life with a gun. “The risks have only grown. There are steps we all can take to help address this ongoing epidemic, and this work is more urgent now than it’s ever been.”
To prevent firearm suicides, policymakers can take several steps outlined in Everytown’s analysis, including:
- Pass extreme risk laws, waiting period laws and laws requiring background checks on all gun sales.
- Build awareness of the links between firearms and suicide, secure firearm storage practices and available support resources.
- Increase access to mental health and medical services.
- Expand access to economic support to mitigate suicide risk.
By covering this public health crisis, reporters can inform readers about life-saving resources and highlight policy solutions, but they should do so in a way that does not increase stigma or contribute to possible contagion effects. If your news organization decides to cover these tragedies, please consider following the advice below for journalists covering suicide.
The recommendations below are from the Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide website, which was developed by suicide prevention experts, international suicide prevention and public health organizations, schools of journalism, media organizations and key journalists as well as Internet safety experts:
- Report suicide as a public health issue. Including stories on hope, healing, and recovery may reduce the risk of contagion.
- Include resources. Provide information on warning signs of suicide risk as well as hotline and treatment resources. At a minimum, include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Crisis Text Line (listed below) or local crisis phone numbers.
- Use responsible language such as “died by suicide” or “killed him/them/herself,” rather than stigmatizing and shame-inducing “committed suicide” language.
- Emphasize help and hope. Stories of recovery through help-seeking and positive coping skills are powerful, especially when they come from people who have experienced suicide risk.
- Report the death as a suicide; keep information about the location general.
- Report that coping skills, support, and treatment work for most people who have thoughts about suicide.
- Describe suicide warning signs and risk factors (e.g. mental illness, relationship problems) that give suicide context.
- Research the best available data to show the scope of suicide and use words like “increase” or “rise.” instead of words that can overstate the problem.
- Provide context and facts to counter perceptions that the suicide was tied to heroism, honor, or loyalty to an individual or group.
The full list of recommendations on how to report on suicide is here.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24/7. 1-800-273-TALK (8255) suicidepreventionlifeline.org
You may also contact the Crisis Text Line, which provides trained crisis counseling services over text 24/7. Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the US crisistextline.org
Free and confidential mental health, suicide prevention, and crisis intervention services and resources are also available to people in-need of help, loved ones of those in-need, and frontline workers through the Pandemic Crisis Services Response Coalition at https://www.covidmentalhealthsupport.org