Veteran Teaches Therapists How to Talk about Gun Safety When Suicide’s a Risk

March 17, 2017

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark News


A peer counselor at a Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center is teaching therapists how to discuss gun safety with patients who are at risk for suicide. Army veteran Jay Zimmerman travels around the country providing guidance to therapists and other veterans on reducing access to firearms in the event of a suicidal crisis. With a history of depression and suicidal ideation, Zimmerman speaks from experience, explaining how he asks friends to temporarily store his guns during difficult times. “I call them and say, ‘Look, I’m feeling like it’s not safe for me to have firearms in my home. Can you store them for me for a couple days till I feel like I’m OK to have them back?’ ” According to Megan McCarthy, a psychologist and National Deputy Director at the VA Office for Suicide Prevention, some clinicians are not sure how to broach the topic of guns with their patients. Therapists should try to engage in a dialogue with veterans rather than imposing a directive, she said, as “it may take time to build trust. Telling them what to do the first time you’ve met them is probably not going to be a very effective approach.”

Spark Extra! Learn more about reducing access to means of suicide.