Suicide rates in the United States are up nearly 30 percent since 1999, according to data released from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To help address this growing epidemic, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a policy aimed at increasing awareness about the risks for suicide among the public, medical students, physicians and all health care professionals by using an evidence-based, multi-disciplinary approach. The new policy also calls for providing training for physicians to help them assess suicide risk and conduct lethal means safety counseling (assessing if a person at risk for suicide has access to a firearm or other lethal means).

“With an increasing number of people committing suicide in the U.S., we must do everything we can to help increase awareness about the risk factors for suicide. By educating patients, students, residents, practicing physicians and other health care professionals on the risks associated with suicide, we will all be better equipped to identify patients, colleagues, friends, and others who are at risk of suicide and help save lives,” says AMA President Barbara L. McAneny, M.D.

Suicides by firearm are particularly prevalent and make up nearly 60 percent of all firearm deaths in the U.S. each year, according to CDC data. Suicide is a leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and firearms are among the most lethal suicide attempt method, with nearly 9 out of 10 attempts resulting in death. The goal of the new policy is to ensure physicians are aware of the significant role of firearms in suicides and are trained to assess whether a person at risk for suicide has access to a firearm. The policy encourages physicians to discuss firearm and lethal means safety and work with at-risk patients and their families to reduce access to lethal means of suicide.

“While the need for firearm injury prevention among high-risk individuals is widely accepted as an effective clinical intervention, too few physicians are actually conducting screening and counseling to increase safety, especially when it comes to suicide,” said Dr. McAneny. “We need more physicians to counsel their patients who are at high risk for violence and suicide, and work with their families, to learn as much as possible about their access to firearms and other lethal means – doing so may help prevent suicides and help keep families from enduring the tragic loss of a loved one,” said Dr. McAneny.

Earlier this week, the AMA’s House of Delegates passed a number of resolutions that bolster the AMA’s policy on firearm safety and violence prevention, which includes calling for gun violence restraining orders that would provide a mechanism to remove firearms from individuals at heightened risk of violence to themselves or others.