Promoting Personal Health and Safety – Nebraska City News Press

The annual wellness exam is one of my favorite activities as a doctor. This is an opportunity to talk about one of my passions: health promotion.

As most patients expect, our health promotion discussion includes smoking cessation, diet and exercise. Perhaps more surprising is our conversation regarding personal security. We are talking about sunscreen, seat belts, helmets, distracted driving or driving under the influence. And I ask if their guns are locked.

I grew up in Iowa and live in South Dakota. Both are states where hunting and guns are such a part of the culture that we don’t mind thinking people have guns in their homes. The same can be said of many States in our region.

So why am I asking if the guns are locked? Guns are a popular target for thieves. Anyone can break in, and you don’t want it to be easy for thieves to take advantage of the act, or worse, hurt someone. Most important, however, is the safety of people at home.

Sometimes parents tell me with confidence that their guns are well hidden from their children. They usually reconsider when I ask, “Did you know where your parents hid Christmas presents when you were young?”

Sometimes parents tell me that their children have learned not to touch guns. However, these same children, when questioned during their health visits, often tell me that they would pick up a gun unattended to take to an adult. Research confirms this.

Protecting children at home from unintentional injury is only part of the story. I also hope to prevent intentional injuries. Although firearms are only used in about 5% of suicide attempts, they are implicated in more than half of suicide deaths. In fact, nationally, more than 50% of gun deaths are suicides.

The underlying causes of suicide are complex and numerous, but once a person decides to do so, there is often a very short period before acting on that decision. For many individuals, if they are unable to carry out their plan in those first minutes, or if that plan involves a less deadly means, the moment of crisis is over. People are much more likely to survive a suicide attempt without a gun, while over 80% of people who attempt suicide with a gun die.

Keeping guns unloaded and locked away, keeping ammunition in a separate place, removing guns from the house if someone struggles: these are actions that can save the life of someone you love. It could even be your life. This subject is indeed an integral part of health promotion.

Debra Johnston, MD is part of The Prairie Doc

team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc… based on science, built on trust, at www.prairiedoc. org and on Facebook with On Call with the Prairie Doc, a medical Q&A broadcast live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. Central Time.

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