Marian Betz, M.D., M.P.H., from the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver, is working to identify the attitudes and behaviors of emergency department (ED) doctors and nurses towards asking about access to firearms and other lethal means. More than half of suicides are by firearms and limiting access to lethal means has been proven around the world to decrease suicides. ED staff can play a critical role in suicide prevention.
The University of Colorado is one of eight centers collaborating in ED-SAFE, an NIMH-funded study to learn how EDs across the nation can improve their suicide assessments and interventions. Dr. Betz is using her AFSP Young Investigator Grant to study how ED personnel interact with suicidal patients over availability of guns and gun safety. Her findings have been published in the April 2013 issue of Depression and Anxiety.
After surveying 631 ED physicians and nurses, she found that 49% of doctors and 72% of nurses reported that they “hardly ever” personally counsel patients or families to temporarily remove or lock up guns at home. She also found that 44% of doctors and 67% of nurses believed that most or all people who die by suicide by gun would find another way to kill themselves if the gun was not available to them. Less than half of the staff considered suicide as preventable.
These findings demonstrate the importance of asking about access to lethal means and discussing ways to keep the suicidal person safe. These researchers are currently testing a program that teaches ED staff about suicide and how to screen for suicide risk and to conduct brief interventions including training about access to lethal means.
Marian Betz, M.D., M.P.H., is an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at University of Colorado in Denver, Colorado.