The conversation about suicides in the U.S. needs to include guns. Here's why.

Not all suicides are completed with a gun — but in the U.S., most are.

Each time a high-profile celebrity dies by suicide, we seem to start a fresh conversation about suicide statistics in America.

In half of U.S. states, suicide rates have climbed 30% or more in the past two decades. Only Nevada saw a decline during that time — a mere 1%, which still puts the state higher than the national average.


Questions of why and what we can do about suicide dominate, leading to discussions revolving around mental health stigma and access to mental health care. And, indeed, those are vital pieces of the puzzle.

But there's another piece we don't talk about enough. If we want to reduce suicide statistics, we have to include the most common and lethal means of suicide in the U.S.: self-inflicted gunshot.

Research shows that when it comes to suicide, method matters. And firearm is by far the most deadly.

In some ways, focusing on a handful of celebrity suicides distracts from the research on U.S. suicide rates overall.

While we can't always know why Americans die by suicide, we do know how: Suicide by firearm kills more people than all other suicide methods combined. And while women are three times more likely to attempt suicide than men, men are four times as likely to die by suicide as women.

Why the discrepancy? All signs point to the fact that men tend to choose more violent and lethal methods of suicide.

And guns are by far the most lethal means. Of non-firearm suicide attempts, about 90% are unsuccessful, while about 90% of firearm suicides are successful. That makes access to guns a prime factor in suicide risk.

Many suicides are actually impulsive acts. That matters too.

One thing that gets missed in our discourse on suicide is that while some suicide attempts are a culmination of years of internal struggle with mental illness, many — and perhaps most — are not.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, one-third to four-fifths of people who attempt suicide are reacting to a current major stressor, not taking a long-premeditated action.

But suicide by firearm doesn't afford people a chance to change their mind or get a second chance. Most people who attempt suicide don't really want to end their lives; they want to end their pain. A gun allows a suicidal person to take split-second action, whereas most other means allow a person to stop mid-attempt or for another person to intervene.

While we're addressing how to prevent suicidal ideation, we need to consider easy access to the most lethal means of suicide.

Research shows that having access to a gun drastically increases the likelihood of a successful suicide attempt.

According to a Harvard University analysis, states with the highest rates of gun ownership had rates of gun suicide 3.7 times higher for men and 7.9 times higher for women than those with lowest gun ownership. Other methods of suicide were about equal.

For all demographics, the easier guns are to access, the higher the risk of completed suicide.

And it's not because gun owners are more suicidal. Catherine Barber, director of the suicide prevention effort Means Matter, said:

"When we compared people in gun-owning households to people not in gun-owning households, there was no difference in terms of rates of mental illness or in terms of the proportion saying that they had seriously considered suicide. Actually, among gun owners, a smaller proportion say that they had attempted suicide. So it's not that gun owners are more suicidal. It's that they're more likely to die in the event that they become suicidal, because they are using a gun."

In light of the facts, we clearly need to do more to curb access to guns for people at risk for suicide.

If we're serious about suicide prevention in the U.S., we have to include gun control in the conversation.

And conversely, if we're serious about reducing our gun death rate, we need to include suicide in our discussions. In the U.S., the statistics are strongly linked, a fact we shouldn't overlook.  

Family

A new Harriet Tubman statue sculpted by Emmy and Academy award-winner Wesley Wofford has been revealed, and its symbolism is moving to say the least.

Harriet Tubman was the best known "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses that helped thousands of enslaved black Americans make their way to freedom in the north in the early-to-mid 1800s. Tubman herself escaped slavery in 1849, then kept returning to the Underground Railroad, risking her life to help lead others to freedom. She worked as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, and after the war dedicated her life to helping formerly enslaved people try to escape poverty.

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Heroes

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

Culture
via Kenneth Goldsmith / Twitter

The Hillary Clinton email scandal was a major right-wing talking point during the 2016 election that aimed to create an air of suspicion around the candidate.

The media played right into it turning Clinton — one of the most qualified candidates to ever run for the office — appear just as unworthy of the presidency as Trump, a vulgar, politically-inexperienced pathological liar.

The controversy surrounded Clinton's use of a private email account in which over 30,000 emails were sent during her time as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. An FBI interrogation found there were 110 confidential emails sent from her private account.

Clinton was never criminally charged, however FBI director James Comey said she was "extremely careless."

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Democracy

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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