Do you have access to a gun? Do you live with anyone who has access to a gun? Clinicians at the University of Michigan's psychiatric emergency department are asking these hard questions as part of an initiative to reduce gun violence — one gun and one family at a time.
Once the risks of a patient who presents with acute mental health concerns have been determined through comprehensive counseling and education, they are offered a free gun lock, David Miller, MD, president of University of Michigan Health System and executive vice dean for clinical affairs at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, told Becker's.
More than 500 free gun locks have been distributed to patients and/or their families who acknowledged they could be in danger from firearms and ammunition not stored properly at home.
Dr. Miller said clinicians are highly trained in their ability to educate and counsel patients who are at risk of causing, or being the victim of, gun violence. He is especially concerned with the rising numbers of teen suicides, many involving firearms.
The goal is to provide "non-judgmental educational intervention to facilitate behavioral change," Dr. Miller said, noting the program involves the patient's entire family when possible.
Families have responded positively to the education on gun violence risks, the need to secure firearms and the free locks. Dr. Miller said he thinks viewing the broader implications of unsecured guns as they relate to families as well as the patients are what has made the initiative so successful.
"It's important to recognize the significant appreciation related both to the education and to the distribution and provision of the free gun locks by patients and families who've expressed surprise about the availability of this specific intervention to mitigate risk related to firearms," he said. "The strength of this program is the link between the education and then offering a resource that has broad risk mitigation."
The gun locks are paid for, in part, by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration through a grant based at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
He likened the free gun lock initiative to something most emergency department physicians know well. "What we are doing is not dissimilar to what happens if someone presents with cardiac disease. We try to understand not just the manifestations of that condition, but the risk factors for it. Then we try to mitigate and reduce risks over time," Dr. Miller said.
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