While the youth suicide rate in the U.S. has dropped by more than 20 percent in recent decades, it has stayed steady among young people in rural areas. A new study finds that frank conversations about guns have to be part of successful suicide-prevention strategies.

"Are there guns in the house?" is a question social workers or counselors would typically ask a family when coping with a suicidal youth.

In rural areas, it's a different situation, says Jonathan Singer, associate professor of social work at Temple University.

"Everybody had guns. The kids had access to guns, they knew how to use guns," observed Singer who, together with colleague Karen Slovak from rural Ohio, interviewed social workers about their interactions with families in rural areas.

He says conversations about weapons have to get right to the point.

"Don't ask, 'Do you have guns?' Don't ask, 'Do you know how to use them?' The first thing you want to say is, 'Do you realize that this gun can be used as a weapon in a suicide?'" Singer says.

Gun owners living in rural areas say safety is a major concern, and they keep guns under lock and key and store ammunition separately. But if a young person knows how to use a gun, that youth tends to be given more access to weapons.

Singer says guns are the most lethal method in suicide attempts; eight out of 10 attempts result in death.