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Research Highlight: NIMH Awards Funding for Research on Preventing Firearm Injury and Mortality

In 2018, of the 48,000 people in the United States who died by suicide, 24,000 used a firearm. Suicide attempts by firearm are especially dangerous, with as many as 9 out of 10 attempts resulting in death. Understanding and reducing firearm injury and mortality is incredibly important, so much so that in 2019, the Joint Explanatory Statement accompanying the FY2020 Further Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 1865) included funding for the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on firearm injury and mortality prevention. This statement also recommended that NIH take a comprehensive approach to studying the underlying causes of—­and evidence-based methods of preventing—firearm injury.

To help address the critical need for more research on preventing and reducing firearm injury and mortality, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is supporting three grants issued under the NIH-wide research funding opportunity, Firearm Injury and Mortality Prevention Research (PAR-20-143). The three studies described below reflect the goals of striving for prevention and cures and strengthening the public health impact of NIMH-supported research outlined in NIMH's 2020 Strategic Plan for Research and address different topics of importance to advance the science of suicide prevention.

  • Online Storage Maps to Facilitate Voluntary Firearm Storage: Mixed Methods Evaluation
    Reducing firearm access to those at risk is a key suicide prevention strategy. New public-facing online state maps display firearm ranges, retailers, and law enforcement agencies (LEAs) willing to provide temporary, voluntary firearm storage. These maps serve as a way for people to easily identify places where they can voluntarily store their firearms. Marian Betz, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, is leading a project examining the perspectives of firearm suppliers and firearm users in Colorado and Washington on these statewide firearm storage maps. The researchers will also develop an implementation toolkit for other states considering or creating firearm storage maps.
  • Mechanisms Underlying the Association of Firearm Availability and Vulnerability to Suicide
    Firearm availability may contribute indirectly to suicide mortality through its influence on anticipatory anxiety and cognitive control, two biobehavioral processes that can increase vulnerability to suicidal behaviors. Craig Bryan, Psy.D., director of the Division of Recovery and Resilience at The Ohio State University, is leading a study aiming to provide information about developmental, individual, and contextual factors that contribute to firearm suicide through a variety of self-report, psychophysiological, behavioral, and ecological assessment methods. His study will also identify potential intervention targets that could be strengthened to reduce suicide risk associated with firearm availability.
  • Family Safety Net: Developing an Upstream Suicide Prevention Approach to Encourage Safe Firearm Storage in Rural and Remote Alaskan Homes
    In rural Alaska Native (AN) communities, many homes have multiple guns for traditional subsistence activities, which increases suicide risk significantly. In the rural AN region where this study takes place, youth suicide rates (all methods) are 18 higher times than that of other adolescents in the U.S. Lisa Wexler, Ph.D., a professor of social work and research professor in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, is leading a study that will inform the development of the Family Safety Net (FSN), a public health approach that engages adult family members of youth in increasing their home safety. Done during regularly-scheduled primary care clinic visits, the FSN will integrate important culturally specific considerations to support, encourage, and assess safe firearm storage practices relevant to AN families.

Although much is left to be done in order to bend the curve in U.S. suicide rates, these studies are one way NIMH is addressing the role firearms play in contributing to suicide.

Visit the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research news page to learn more about NIH funding for firearms injury and mortality prevention research.

To learn more about the role lethal means play in suicide, and actions that have resulted in reductions in firearm-related suicide, see the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention report Lethal Means & Suicide Prevention: A Guide for Community and Industry Leaders.

Grants

MH125754, MH125757, MH125759

Research Highlight