Emergency Department Staff Attitudes About Limiting Access to Lethal Means

Emergency Department Staff Attitudes About Limiting Access to Lethal Means

Marian Betz, M.D., M.P.H.

The Question

How do emergency department staff interact with patients at-risk for suicide?

Background

ED staff can play a critical role in suicide prevention. More than half of suicides are by firearms, and limiting access to lethal means has been proven around the world to decrease suicides. Marian Betz, M.D., M.P.H., from the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver, wanted to identify the attitudes and behaviors of ED doctors and nurses about access to lethal means. She was particularly interested in whether ED staff asked patients about access to firearms. 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. 

The Study

Betz surveyed 631 ED physicians and nurses.

  • Less than half of the staff considered suicide as preventable.
  • 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.
  • 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.
The Takeaway

These findings demonstrate the importance of training ED personnel to ask patients at risk for suicide if they have access to lethal means, and to work with the patient to keep them safe should another crisis arise. 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. Click here to read more about Dr. Betz's Young Investigator Grant.

Published Articles from this Study

  • Betz, M. E., et al. on behalf of the, E. D. S. I. (2013). LETHAL MEANS RESTRICTION FOR SUICIDE PREVENTION: BELIEFS AND BEHAVIORS OF EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT PROVIDERS.Depression and Anxiety, n/a-n/a. doi: 10.1002/da.22075
  • Betz, M. E., et al. on behalf of the, E. D. S. I. (2013). KNOWLEDGE, ATTITUDES, AND PRACTICES OF EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT PROVIDERS IN THE CARE OF SUICIDAL PATIENTS.Depression and Anxiety, n/a-n/a. doi: 10.1002/da.22071