Dumont’s patient shot himself in the head with a rifle. Dumont was stunned, and guilt-ridden.
He says he always asks his depressed patients about suicide, whether they’ve thought about how they’d do it. But he now regrets not asking this patient specifically whether he had guns in the house.
Suicide prevention researcher Dr. Matthew Miller, at the Harvard School of Public Health, says Dumont sounds like a great doctor. “He was doing everything he could to try to keep this guy from making a suicide attempt, but what he didn’t do was the second step, which is make it hard for him to die if he did make an attempt,” Miller says.
The second step, Miller says, is asking patients if they have guns in the house or access to guns. If someone tries to commit suicide without using a gun, they probably won’t succeed.
“The likelihood of their dying is of an order of magnitude lower,” he says. “Instead of there being a 90-plus percent chance of death, there’s a greater than 90 percent chance that they’ll live.”
Miller wants to make it routine for family doctors to ask their patients about guns. One large study found that nearly half of all suicide victims had seen a primary care doctor within a month of killing themselves. So it’s important for them to bring up suicide and possible means.
by Eric Whitney, NPR