Volume 45, Issue 4 (July 2000)
Psychological Factors in the Determination of Suicide in Self-Inflicted Gunshot Head Wounds
Self-inflicted contact gunshot wounds to the head have usually been considered presumptive of suicide. This study evaluates whether sufficient psychological data are gathered in such cases to support a manner of death determination of suicide. We suggest that law enforcement agencies and coroner's departments do not fully explore the decedent's state of mind at the time of death. We studied the first 50 consecutive deaths in 1993 in a major metropolitan county due to self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head. The sample consists primarily of unmarried, white males, with a median age of 35 years, who displayed psychiatric disturbance, primarily depression, before their death. Younger individuals were often under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs at the time of death. Stressors, such as the loss of a loved one, are common among young and middle-aged persons, while serious health problems are found among the majority of middle-aged and elderly individuals. Many of the findings of this study are consistent with the literature regarding individuals who commit suicide. Although data on many important psychological risk factors are missing in most cases, sufficient psychological material is gathered about the decedent's mental condition at the time of death to support a suicide determination.