Older men in rural towns are being harmed by guns, but not in the way you may think.
A new study released Monday by the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests the majority of firearm-related deaths in Ontario is caused by suicide.
Researchers looked at more than 2,700 firearm-related deaths between 2002 and 2016. Suicide accounted for 68 per cent of deaths, something co-author of the study and Toronto trauma surgeon Dr. David Gomez didn’t find surprising.
“Even though violent injuries receive most attention, most health care practitioners that work in this field know the vast majority of deaths are actually secondary to suicide,” he said.
“When we speak to our rural colleagues, they tell us this is a day-to-day practice.”
As a trauma surgeon, Gomez’s day includes assessing patients from the time they arrive in the Emergency Room, to conducting emergency surgeries to those who have been injured.
He says based on the data the team collected, gun-related deaths are happening three times more often in communities with 100,000 people or less, in comparison to larger urban cities like Toronto, where young urban men were most likely to be injured from gun-related assaults.
“The difference is staggering,” he said. “This is a problem that’s happening in rural populations all across Ontario.”
Chris Thompson, 37, lives in Fenelon Falls, a village in Ontario where fewer than 2,000 people reside.
Thompson has traversed a razor-thin line between life and death, having attempted to die by suicide multiple times.
“After my daughter was born, I ended up taking off to Chapleau in northern Ontario and attempted to hang myself,” he said.
“The rope ended up breaking while I was there.”
Thompson says there are limited mental health resources in Fenelon Falls.
“There’s no help out here for anybody in my situation. I’ve relied on my family to help me out.”
“My (two-year-old) daughter calls me every day just to tell me that she loves me.”
Fifty-two-year-old Oshawa resident Jim Newcombe has a similar perspective. Newcombe lived in Mount Uniacke, a small town in Nova Scotia about 45 minutes northwest of Halifax.
“I attempted suicide at that time,” Newcombe said, adding he had overdosed on his medication.
“It felt like the ambulance took forever to get there.”
But even younger men who have struggled with suicidal thoughts say they’re having trouble accessing mental health resources. Sawyer Kemp, 22, said after he turned 18, services were nearly impossible to receive. Kemp said he was receiving youth outreach services up until that age.
“The moment I turned 18 was when I filed my release forms and it very much became ‘you’re on your own,'” he said, describing a “lack of empathy” by organizations he contacted.
“I reached out to several places. They said ‘we’ll put you on a wait list. You’ll hear from us within a few months.’ That was a year ago.”
The Canadian Mental Health Association says men are less likely to reach out for mental health support.
“We find that men usually don’t reach out as often as women do when they’re looking for (help),” said spokesperson Alec King.
“I think that’s a large part of why you see in the study that is was more men affected by it.”
The CMHA also says it provides support to clients in rural communities, but agree it’s much more difficult for people who live there to access services.
“Just because of how they are so separated and the wide, diverse locations people are at, it’s difficult to provide services to people exactly where they need them.”
As for doctors like Gomez, he hopes new information from the study will paint a dire picture that pushes legislators to make change. Drawing from inspiration from other countries including the United States, Gomez says a Red Flag Law could be implemented to aid the issue.
“Primary care practitioners or emergency department physicians are provided with the tools too identify someone who is at risk to hurt themselves or others and the legislative framework is there to temporarily black access to their firearms, that has led to reduction in rates of suicide.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
Learn more about how to help someone in crisis here.