WASHINGTON -- This past weekend’s apparent suicide by country music star Mindy McCready offers an opportunity to educate family and friends on ways to help prevent a suicide, especially when the loved one has access to a gun, says Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) psychiatrist Liza Gold, MD.
McCready died Feb. 17 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to media reports. Her death comes weeks after her boyfriend met the same fate.
“For years, suicide has consistently been one of the top ten causes of death in the United States, however, it is often an impulsive act that arises in the context of a mental health crisis,” says Gold.
Those who struggle with addiction and mental illness, as McCready reportedly had, are especially at risk when a gun is available, Gold says.
More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have depression or other mental disorders, or a substance abuse disorder, or often a combination, Gold says. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the most common and lethal method of suicide is by gunshot. Over 50 percent of suicide attempts are with firearms; of those, 85 percent are fatal.
And where guns are concerned, Gold says there are some basic strategies that can prevent a major tragedy for people struggling with mental illness and/or substance abuse who might be or become suicidal.
“A family member should ask if the person has access to firearms and ammunition,” Gold suggests. “If so, ask how many guns and where they are. Find out if the person would voluntarily allow the family member to temporarily remove the guns from the house, or put them in a safe and allow the family member to hold the key.”
Gold cautions against fighting over the weapons. “Never try to disarm anyone,” she says. “If you know the person has access to a weapon, is suicidal, and is not willing to give up the weapon or becomes agitated if you ask for it, back off and call the police immediately. The people most likely to be shot and killed by family members -- with or without mental illness -- are other family members.”
Gold says knowing the signs that someone is at increasing risk for suicide in a crisis context can allow others to intervene. “Concern for an individual’s safety should be triggered by signs and symptoms of increasing depression, such as hopelessness, profound negativity and loss of interest in life, social withdrawal, even slowed thinking,” she says. “Severe anxiety or depression with agitation and insomnia can be risk factors, as can hallucinations, delusions or other forms of breaks from reality.”
Gold adds that in most cases, these symptoms develop gradually, over days or weeks, and this creates opportunities to limit the individual’s access to the most common and lethal means of suicide: firearms.
Liza Gold, MD, is a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center. She is available for interviews by contacting Karen Mallet at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Georgetown University Medical Center
?Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical Translation and Science Award from the National Institutes of Health.