New campaign teams up with gun dealers to prevent suicides
COLUMBIA - In an effort to decrease the number of suicides across the state, a non-profit group is teaming up with gun retailers.
Safer Homes Collaborative, the non profit group, has approached nearly 550 gun stores across the state of Missouri about displaying materials with information about how to spot suicidal behavior and how to help.
When Joe Gilbert was first approached last winter, he was worried the non-profit was political.
"We didn't want to be involved with something that is anti-second amendment, but they are truly a-political," he said. "I don't think there is a person I have ever met who has not been touched by suicide, so with the sole focus of saving lives, I jumped on board."
According to the Missouri Institute of Mental Health, six out of 10 suicides involve firearms. While people often attempt to take their own life using other methods, the National Library of Medicine says using a firearm is fatal 85-90% of the time.
While the conversation about guns tends to center around homicides, suicides account for nearly two-thirds off the total number of gun deaths in the U.S.
According to the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services, there were 726 suicides in the state last year. Since 2008, the department says suicides have been on the rise, increasing 53.5%. Missouri has the 13th highest suicide rate in the country.
For Missourians between the ages of 10 and 34, it is the second leading cause of death. A recently released report from America's Health Rankings found the suicide rate among teens between the ages of 15-19 has increased 54% in the past three years.
Currently, 420 gun stores across the state of Missouri are displaying the suicide prevention materials.
"If they are gun owners and they are going through a tough time, we want to ask them if we can keep their guns for them because we care about them," he said.
By putting the materials in gun stores, the non-profit hopes to break down some of the stigma in talking about the issue.
"This is a difficult discussion for most people," he said. "We are trying to remove that stigma and let everyone know that we all have tough times and if we can separate the means and create a little bit of time."
He said the desire to commit suicide typically only lasts a few minutes.
"If we can stop somebody, if they don't have access to lethal means at that moment, odds are that will pass."
Since meeting the representative last winter, Gilbert has become a board member and trainer for the group.
"After I did some research, attended a meeting and started understanding the material, it became apparent to me that this was for the greater good," he said. "If we can't make a little time and sacrifice with our time to help other people, there is no reason to be here."
Gilbert said he believes the program will save lives.
"You often hear that one life saved is a justification, but I believe we will and have saved many lives," he said.
If you or someone you know have suicidal thoughts, it is important to recognize the warning signs of suicidal behavior.
- Talking about suicide or wanting to die
- Increased substance abuse
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Isolation from friends or activities
- Extreme mood swings or anger
There are a number of programs and resources available for those who have suicidal thoughts.
- Missouri Ask, Listen, Refer is a free, online program for community members that takes roughly 20 minutes to complete.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK (8255)) is available for free, 24/7 access to trained crisis workers who will talk about problems and direct people to further mental health services in their area.