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Doctoral Student, Faculty Mentor’s Research Published in Psychology Journal

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 10:25am | By: David Tisdale

The research of a University of Southern Mississippi (USM) graduate student and faculty member duo has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

Claire Houtsma of Chicago, Illinois, a doctoral candidate in the USM College of Education and Human Sciences’ School of Psychology, and her mentor, associate professor Dr. Michael Anestis, submitted “What I have is what I am: Differences in demographics, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and firearm behavior and beliefs between firearm owners who do and do not primarily identify as firearm owners.”

The paper submitted is based on the results of a study of a diverse group of individuals at elevated risk for suicide who are traditionally underrepresented in suicide research (active duty military, transgender individuals, veterinarians, firearm owners, first responders, as examples) who were recruited for the project. These individuals were given a list of demographic and occupational categories, and asked to select which ones they belong to, and then given an opportunity to select which, if any, they most strongly identified with.

Dr. Anestis and Houtsma’s paper found that firearm owners who most strongly identify as firearm owners ("primary firearm owners") rather than some other aspect of their life (military veteran, as an example) were more likely to be male, less likely to believe that firearm access or storage are related to suicide risk, more likely to store their firearms unsafely, less open to storing firearms more safely or temporarily storing them away from home during crises to lower suicide risk, and less likely to have experienced suicidal ideation in the past.

These results highlight that firearm owners for whom firearm ownership is a central aspect of how they view their identity may see suicide as less salient, and firearms as unrelated to suicide risk and, as such, be less motivated to change their firearm behavior.

Anestis, a nationally recognized expert on links between gun safety and suicide, said the study’s findings highlight a few points meaningful for suicide prevention. 

“First, the firearm owning community is diverse, so we need to do a better job of understanding how that diversity impacts the ways in which firearm owners interact with and think about their firearms,” he said. “Second, the results highlight that firearm owners who see their firearms as a central aspect of who they are may be at greater risk for suicide because of their unsafe storage practices, but also harder for the suicide prevention community to reach due to their skepticism about our message. 

“Finally, the results also show why it is vital for the suicide prevention field to more effectively craft messages that resonate with firearm owners, and which are not restricted to mental healthcare settings where these individuals may never hear them."

For information about Dr. Anestis and the USM School of Psychology, visit