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Anguished, armed and impulsive: A deadly mix fuels rising teen suicides

Cindy Krischer Goodman, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Health & Fitness

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- On a spring morning near Orlando, a 17-year-old typed "I love you guys" on her Instagram page. Struggling with depression, distraught over a breakup, and fighting back tears, she walked out of class and into the empty high school auditorium. She pulled her grandfather's Glock 45 from her small brown purse and killed herself.

Roughly twice a week in Florida, a child or teenager takes their life. Nearly half of the time they use guns, most often belonging to a family member.

Such heartbreaking decisions by troubled young people have fueled a 50% increase in youth suicides in Florida during the last decade.

Yet guns are barely mentioned in youth suicide-prevention efforts by state and local authorities.

Florida's current suicide prevention plan, used to guide state and local agencies tasked with reducing suicides, doesn't include the word gun and uses the word firearm just once.

The risk of guns in the homes of mentally troubled young people wasn't mentioned at forums across South Florida this spring -- even though the forums were called in response to the deaths of two Parkland teens who used household guns to take their lives within six days of each other.

 

It's time for that to change, many experts in suicide prevention say. As the rate of suicides among young people trends upward, a spotlight has been focused on the youth mental health crisis. But because of the staggering -- and preventable -- role that guns play in suicides, experts say the taboo subject of access to firearms must now become a key part of the discussion.

Dr. Scott Poland, a psychology professor and co-director of the Suicide and Violence Prevention Office at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, says it's time for parents and mental health professionals to be more direct with depressed teens about whether they have plans to use guns for self-harm.

"It's frustrating that the state doesn't make parent education around this risk one of its initiatives," Poland said. "This is not about confiscating guns. It is about helping parents understand the potential danger in their own homes."

With their unforgiving effectiveness, guns play an outsize role in all suicides. But they are especially dangerous in the hands of teenagers with undeveloped impulse control and a rising tide of mental health issues.

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