States with more behavioral health workers experienced a minor reduction in adjusted firearm suicide rates, according to findings of a cross-sectional analysis published in Health Affairs. However, the decrease is especially small relative to the costs required to foster it, researchers reported.
“While there are countless good reasons to improve mental health and substance misuse services in America, our data suggests that big investments won’t lead to much improvement in saving lives lost to firearm suicide,” Thomas Wickizer, PhD, chair of the division of health services management and policy at Ohio State University’s College of Public Health, said in a press release. “In Ohio, for instance, we would estimate that more than $15 million in workforce dollars would have to be spent to prevent one suicide.”
Although previous research examined prevention policies including background checks, waiting periods before firearm issue and restrictions on certain military-style weapons, little research exists on whether increasing access to behavioral health services would reduce gun-related suicide, they noted.
The researchers conducted a time-series cross-sectional analysis to compare firearm suicide rates in states with more available treatment professionals with rates in states with fewer professionals. Overall, the mean adjusted suicide rate increased from 6.74 per 100,000 people in 2005 to 7.89 per 100,000 in 2015, which represented a 17.1% increase. Wickizer and colleagues noted a significant independent inverse relationship between more health workers per state and firearm suicide rates. On average, a 10% relative increase in behavioral health workers per state was associated with a 1.2% relative reduction in the adjusted firearm suicide rate. Despite an overall decrease, the researchers concluded that firearm-related suicide rates would decrease by less than 5% even if all federally designated mental health workforce shortage areas in the U.S. were eliminated.
“While our research suggests that more behavioral health treatment workers might be somewhat helpful in reducing suicides, our findings also underscore an important reality — investing in improving firearm safety initiatives and limiting gun access for at-risk individuals may provide a greater return on investment,” study author Evan Goldstein, a PhD student at Ohio State’s College of Public Health, said in the release. – by Joe Gramigna
Disclosures: Healio Psychiatry was unable to determine relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.