Friday, October 6, 2017
The last few weeks have been very tough, haven't they? As have the last few months, and perhaps even the last few years.
Many seem to be trying to understand why a 64-year-old "retired" man in the U.S. would assemble an arsenal of weaponry, unleash it on a crowd of innocents enjoying a last few weekend hours of music, and then take his own life. While it is, on a comparative scale, unusual for a 60+ individual to be involved in a mass shooting, "older men" apparently have a comparatively high suicide-by-gun rate. While there may be no way to understand the motivation for the most recent murders, there are still reasons to ask whether aging and deteriorating cognitive health can be factors in gun-related deaths.
In the search for some understanding I read Leah Libresco's opinion piece in the Washington Post: "I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise."
In that article, her research on the annual 33,000+ gun deaths in America, led her to several interesting observations and conclusions. She writes, for example, that the statistics showed her:
- "Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides."
- "Older men, who make up the largest share of gun suicides, need better access to people who could care for them and get help."
Libresco's essay sent me in turn to a feature story, part of a FiveThirtyEight series analyzing annual gun deaths, on "Surviving Suicide in Wyoming," by Anna Maria Barry-Jester. She writes in greater detail about warning signs of deteriorating mental health, especially among older men: isolation, sometimes self-imposed; sleeplessness; depression; anxiety; and unresolved physical health problems.
As these articles point out, limiting access to guns is appropriate for individuals with suicidal thoughts. That's different than "gun control laws." And while guns may too often be the means to effectuate "rash desperate decisions," these researchers also suggest the greatest need is for better public awareness and response to warning signs, and for improved diagnosis and access to effective care, including social, mental and physical health care.