Suicide is twice as common as homicide in the United States, despite what is frequently depicted in the media. And of those suicides, more than half involve a firearm, which is also at odds with the public’s general notions of self-inflicted gun death.
In other words, public perception has it backward, according to a study published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. If left uncorrected, that misunderstanding could continue a deadly cycle.
“This research indicates that in the scope of violent death, the majority of U.S. adults don’t know how people are dying,” explained Erin Morgan, the study’s lead author and doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health. Led by researchers at Harvard University, Northeastern University, and UW, the first-of-its kind national research study investigates the significant gap between the public’s perception and the difficult realities of firearm death rates, which the study author point out could potentially lead to further danger.
The study authors want to continue investigating how individuals form their beliefs about gun violence, hoping to align public perception with reality, and improve conversations about suicide prevention and public education programs.
Compared to the rest of the world, U.S. numbers of homicides vs. self-inflicted gun deaths are flipped. Looking at global statistics from 2016 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that homicides accounted for roughly 64% of gun deaths, followed by suicide at around 27%. Accidental deaths accounted for about 9%.
And indeed, the suicide rate in the United States is worse than previously thought, due in part to the opioid epidemic, with suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in the nation and rising year over year.