A new study found that more than 17 percent of kids who were considered at risk for suicide had access to guns in their home, making it easy for one impulsive decision to become deadly.

The study was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Washington. Researchers were trying to create a short list of simple questions for emergency room doctors to use while seeing children with a range of troubles, NBC News reported.

What they found was that out of the 524 patients interviewed between ages 10 to 21, 29 percent were at risk for suicide. Furthermore, 17 percent of those at risk for suicide could find guns around their home. Thirty-one percent of them knew where the guns were stored, 31 percent knew where the bullets were located, and 15 percent knew where they could find both.

"While many youth who kill themselves have mental health disorders, up to 40 percent of youths who kill themselves have no known mental illness," Jeffrey A. Bridge, co-author of the study and youth suicide expert at Ohio State University, told the L.A. Times. "This study underscores the importance of parents understanding the risks of having guns in the home. Being at risk of suicide and having access to guns is a volatile mix."

Still, the study may have underestimated the real risk.

"Research suggests that about one-third of children live in homes with a firearm," said Matthew Miller, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and speaker at PAS, told USA Today. "About 1.5 million children live in a household where guns are kept loaded and unlocked. It's possible that some young people interviewed were unaware that their parents own guns."

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth between the ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with firearms responsible for 45 percent of deaths, more than suffocation (40 percent) and poisoning (8 percent).

The researchers emphasized the importance of screening young people for depression and suicidal thoughts.

The four questions that asked during the interview were:

  • In the past few weeks, have you wished you were dead?
  • In the past few weeks, have you felt that you or your family would be better off if you were dead?
  • In the past week, have you been having thoughts about killing yourself?
  • Have you ever tried to kill yourself?

"Once you identify the kids, be willing to engage in a conversation about access to firearms," said Dr. Stephen Teach, author of the study and emergency room doctor at Children's National Medical Center in Washington. Regarding his list of questions, adding that "kids really want to be asked; the reactions were positive."