Improving Teen Mental Health Resources Can Reduce Gun Violence
An important but often less discussed aspect of addressing the epidemic of gun violence in our country is youth suicide committed with guns. According to a report by Everytown for Gun Safety, a national non-profit organization, the suicide rate among young people has increased by about 15% during the pandemic, with almost half of all their suicide attempts involving a firearm. fire. Let’s see how these numbers could be headed down instead of up trending.
Young people facing anxiety, depression, or cyberbullying may feel a sharp sense of despair, leading them to conclude that a self-inflicted lethal bullet may be the only solution. There is broad consensus across the political spectrum that more mental health resources would be helpful for rapid intervention. At the federal level, the main resource has been the National Suicide Prevention Line. Yet, at a time when most teenagers have a high degree of tech savvy as digital natives, this system has required dialing a 10-digit number to get online since 2005.
Fortunately, the Federal Communications Commission has begun a much-needed transition to a voice and text system that will only use three digits – 988 – as a dial-in number. Making this Lifeline easier to use can mean all the difference for a teenager who decides in a split second to contact someone before triggering a tragic outcome.
Beyond this technological shift, it will be important to spread the message widely through mass media and social networks. We already have 911 anchored in our consciousness for other emergency calls. Now is the time to do the same for 988. Parents and teachers can also encourage young people to save the number in their smartphone contact list to make it always accessible.
It will also require more public funds to be allocated to expand the call centers that form the backbone of Lifeline, which will involve hiring enough professionals to reduce response time. Suicide can often be a minute-by-minute decision, which requires prioritizing speed so that at-risk teens can contact a qualified mental health counselor in a quick and seamless manner.
Since the profiles of some recent mass murderers have included reports of their previous suicide attempts, increased focus on optimizing the national suicide prevention line can also prevent such devastating acts. If someone with a gun is able to get real-time advice on avoiding a suicide and mitigating follow-up thoughts of killing multiple people, that can also help reduce mass gun violence.
Since there is no single way to reduce gun violence, strengthening the national suicide prevention line is an obvious and important short-term priority. Let’s create unified support across the political spectrum to make this a much more effective tool going forward.
Stuart N. Brotman is Howard Professor Emeritus of Media Management and Law and Beaman Professor of Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He was a Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC and is the author of “The First Amendment lives on.”