Harvard/Utah Suicide Database: Linking Data to Prevent Suicide

Overview

This project will expand and improve a database linking public health and public safety data to investigate a series of questions about the circumstances of suicide.

Grant Amount: $643,150

Organization: Harvard University

Investigator: David Hemenway, economist and director, Harvard Injury Control Research Center

Expected Completion Date: Mid-2021

Project Summary

Purpose

Leverage and improve an existing public health database to learn more about the circumstances of firearm suicide, such as the time interval between firearm purchase and suicide, ownership of guns used in suicides, whether suicide victims could have passed a background check, the hospital and ED histories of suicide victims, suicides among concealed gun permit holders, and suicides committed while arguing.

Approach

  • Leverage and expand the Harvard/Utah Suicide (HUTS) database, a population-based census of fatal and hospital-treated suicidal acts that includes victims’ three-year inpatient and emergency department history, as well as whether they could have passed a background check for firearm possession and whether they had a permit to carry a concealed firearm.
  • Link ATF trace data to HUTS to identify owners of guns used in suicides and the time interval between gun purchase and suicide.
  • Improve and review data on military service status, occupation coding, and case finding for history of behavioral health problems.

Significance

Understanding the circumstances of firearm suicides will help inform new suicide prevention strategies.

Investigator Bios

  • David Hemenway is an economist and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center. Dr. Hemenway is past president of the National Association of Injury Control Research Centers and won the Excellence in Science Award from the injury section of the American Public Health Association.  He is the sole author of five books and first-author of 60 peer-reviewed journal articles. 
  • Catherine Barber is a senior researcher at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. She directs Means Matter, a project that advances the science of “lethal means safety” and brings together gun owners and suicide prevention groups to develop local solutions. She led the effort to design and test the prototype for the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System. She and Elaine Frank wrote the original CALM-Online (Counseling on Access to Lethal Means) and have adapted it for different groups around the country.
  • Deborah Azrael is director of research at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. A leader in the field of injury prevention, Dr. Azrael plays a leading role in the Center’s survey-related work (including each of the Center's five national firearms surveys). She was co-director of the pilot for the National Violent Death Reporting System. Her research focuses on firearm violence and suicide prevention.
  • Matthew Miller is co-director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and professor of health sciences and epidemiology, Northeastern University. Dr. Miller has conducted extensive empirical research in injury and violence prevention and is the author of more than 100 articles and book chapters on fatal and non-fatal violent injuries (with emphasis on suicide and homicide), unintentional injuries (including falls, fractures, overdoses, and motor vehicle crashes), and other topics.