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Many emergency department providers don't ask suicidal patients about gun access
Date:4/1/2013

In the year before they died, 40 percent of suicide victims visited an emergency department at least once and often many times.

"This is an opportunity for intervention but very often providers don't know how to react or they think someone else should ask about firearms," said Betz, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the CU School of Medicine. "And then some have an aversion to getting into an area so fraught with politics. This is not an issue of gun control; it's a safety issue for patients in crisis."

As part of the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, emergency room providers are encouraged to routinely assess the ability of suicidal patients to obtain firearms or other tools to harm themselves.

In real life, Betz said, this rarely happens. Her study shows that most felt it was the responsibility of psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses or social workers to ask about firearms.

"If a suicidal person has a gun you could come up with a plan to put it in a safe place," she said. "Sometimes, the police or a family member can take it. Or it can be locked up in a safe."

The study acknowledged the growing caseloads in emergency departments and the difficulty in conducting lengthy counseling sessions of suicidal patients.

The best option, Betz said, would be for emergency departments to have mental health professionals standing by.

"However, brief risk assessment of access to lethal means and possibly brief interventions are reasonable skills for emergency department providers to master," she said, noting that these skills should be incorporated into medical education. "Whenever we have the opportunity to save a life, we ought to be taking it."


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Contact: David Kelly
david.kelly@ucdenver.edu
303-315-6374
University of Colorado Denver
Source:Eurekalert

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