Sandy Potter, vice president of mental health at Texas Health Resources, said people attempting suicide with a firearm rarely show up in the emergency rooms she oversees.
Potter said the weapon was less likely to make a mistake than other suicide methods.
“The accuracy in drug overdose is less because there are so many variables,” Potter said. “But with a gun, there aren’t many variables, right? Really, how accurate are you when you shoot a gun? And it’s all.”
In June, a Collin County officer said a father unsuccessfully performed CPR on his adult son, who had shot himself in the head with a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol. A teenager who shot himself in the head in February with a 9mm Glock 17 pistol had a weak pulse at first and was breathing when an ambulance arrived. He was taken to a local hospital, where police met his mother. He died shortly thereafter.
One Collin County family didn’t even know their loved one had a gun until he killed himself in January. The elderly victim was known for being strongly against gun ownership. His grown son was worried that his father was using his revolver. But the son’s revolver was still in the locked gun safe, “brand new” and “never fired.”
Kaplan said that having guns in the house increases the likelihood of death.
“Having a gun in the household or a large number of guns in the community increases the likelihood of death from a firearm – homicide, suicide or unintentional,” he said.
Tammy Mahan is the CEO of Collin County Mental Health, LifePath Systems. She said the availability of something that could be used to commit suicide, including a weapon, increased the risk.
That’s why Mahan said LifePath Systems is working with families to overcome these temptations. If there is concern that a loved one may be at risk of suicide, prescriptions may only be issued once a week, so a potentially lethal number of pills is not available.
One patient had suicidal thoughts related to knives, so her family locked the knives in their home.
But Mahan said it’s harder to convince people to give up firearms.
“Guns and Texas are a special conversation,” she said. “Some people are much more hesitant to want someone to hold their guns because of all this baggage and things that come with it.”
But the availability of weapons can make a single suicidal impulse much more deadly. This affects men the most, who are more likely to own guns and use them more often in a suicide attempt.
People who have attempted suicide by overdosing or slitting their wrists may have time to change their mind and seek medical attention. Or a loved one can find them and get help in time. But injuries from firearms are most often irreversible.
Mahan said suicides are often not planned. Painful life events combined with mental health issues can be a turning point.
She said suicide can be a “very impulsive” act for many victims.
“They are allright. They come in one day, and then maybe something else happens over the weekend, and in the end they make that choice.”
A major life event such as a divorce, the loss of a loved one, unemployment or bankruptcy can be a catalyst for suicide. Kaplan refers to these suicides as “desperation deaths”.
A breakup can be a catalyst for suicide. One Collin County man shot himself after discovering his wife was having an affair.
Another man shot himself near the house of his ex-girlfriend. After they parted ways, she attempted to protect him by removing the bullets from his 9mm Glock before giving it to him.
Asking for help can be a problem. Potter, who used to be a social worker, said the recognition of mental health issues by the older generation is stigmatizing. And it is especially difficult for older men to seek help, even from their loved ones.
“They don’t really talk to their friends about not feeling well or the pressure, you know, thinking about quitting,” she said.
Kaplan said men who commit suicide don’t always have a mental health diagnosis, and those same people are also more likely to use guns.
“Men are often told, ‘Just deal with it,'” Kaplan said. “It’s like with a football coach… They’ll be like, ‘Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t complain. Just be persistent.” And many men … sincerely believe in it.
The family of a young black Collin County man who shot himself in June did not know he was struggling with suicidal thoughts. But he privately wrote about these thoughts in his diaries for many years.
If someone has hinted at suicide, Mahan encourages family members and friends to ask clarifying and specific questions. Talking about suicide, she says, doesn’t make it more likely. Open communication about this is the best way to help.
Encinias said her father did not seek help for depression before he died.
By helping others, she honors her father. She tells young people about the signs of suicide at her job at the Grant Haliburton Foundation. And she volunteers with LifePath Systems in Collin County to help people who have recently lost someone to suicide.
“If we always keep our finger on the pulse of someone else, it will continue to move us forward,” Encinias said.
If you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts, here are a few resources to get help:
Call 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
North Texas Suicide and Crisis Center Hotline: 214-828-1000. Or, text “UNITE” to 741741 at any time to contact volunteers at the National Crisis Text Line.
LifePath 877 Systems 422-5939
Dallas, Ellis, Hunt, Kaufman, Navarro, and Rockwall counties
North Texas Mental Health Authority 866-260-8000
Tarrant County MHMR 800-866-2465
Methodology: KERA analyzed data from Dallas, Tarrant, and Collin County Medical Examiner’s Offices on suicides and homicides from January 1 to June 30, 2022. , race, and Hispanic origin: April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021. Information on specific cases was obtained from police incident reports.