The health damages of mass shootings are visible across communities

This article was originally published at Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

A grim and familiar pattern has emerged following a parade of mass shootings across America. In their aftermath, the nation’s attention is focused on the direct victims of the attacks, the dead and injured, their families and friends, and the witnesses.

But a growing body of research suggests that the negative effects of mass shootings extend far further than previously thought, harming the health of local residents who were not directly affected by the violence. Mental health experts say the recognition should prompt authorities to direct more attention and resources to preventing such incidents – and helping a wider group of people after all.

“This changes the whole picture of how much public resources we should be using to attack gun violence,” said Erdal Tekin, co-author of a September brief on the research detailed in the journal. health issues, “It would be informative for the public and policy makers to know that the effects of gun violence extend to those who think they are safe.”

Research shows that mass shootings lead to higher rates of depression and anxiety among young people, and a higher risk for suicide. They also lead to an overall decline in the community’s sense of well-being. One study found that countries where mass shootings occurred had a higher rate of premature or low birth weight babies.

Some studies suggest that mass shootings harm economic prospects in a community, reducing productivity and earnings.

There is no consensus about what constitutes a mass shooting. health issues Briefly describe mass shootings as follows: with multiple victims, that are unexpected and random, usually occur in a public place and are not related to another crime such as gang activity or armed robbery, The FBI’s definition is one in which at least four people are killed by a gun.

Often, the researchers say, mass shootings occur in areas that are not plagued by regular gun violence, shattering the sense of security and well-being that residents previously took for granted for themselves and their families.

“We’ve known for years, in fact decades, thanks to the work of neuroscientists and others, about the traumatic effects on actual witnesses of mass shootings,” said Aparna Soni, a health economist at American University. health matters. “Anxiety, depression, PTSD. We didn’t have a good impact on the community, on people who live around who have been emotionally affected by something happening in their own community.

Daniel W. Webster, co-director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Gun Violence Solutions, also said the new health research should change the calculus about the societal costs of gun violence.

“When we’re thinking about policies to reduce gun violence, whether in communities or schools or whatever, there’s always this cost-benefit analysis for policy makers,” he said.

That analysis rarely considers the community-wide impact of gun violence, Webster said, whether in Baltimore, Chicago and other cities where shootings are common or in areas with mass incidents that attract national media attention.

“People really underestimate the social cost of gun violence in all forms in the United States,” he said.

inform public debate

Even though political parties differ on what to do about guns, new research suggests higher spending on mental health services, said Heather Harris, a research fellow in criminal justice at the nonprofit research organization Public Policy Institute of California. should do.

“Building community mental health is not a way to prevent mass shootings, but a way to help those affected when they happen,” she said. “All of that has to be more robust, but it takes resources and people capable of doing that work.”

The Affordable Care Act has increased access to mental health services for millions of people who previously did not have health insurance. And after years of relatively flat federal funding for community mental health, the federal government recently made huge new investments in that area. According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, federal spending on community mental health is set to increase by nearly 75% from 2020 to nearly $3 billion in 2022.

Much of that additional spending came through one-time infusions included in various COVID-19 relief packages, which mental health advocates have celebrated, even as they worry about what will happen when those investments run out. it happens.

“We have a huge investment in cash in these COVID packages, but as they run out, it’s a question of what happens,” said Hannah Wesolowski, chief advocacy officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Are the states going to step in to fill that gap, or are they going to look to the federal government to fund those services?”

Some states have increased mental health spending because of mass shootings in schools. For example, after the 2019 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida increased spending on school mental health by $100 million per year. In addition, the state increased spending on community mental health by $126 million this year.

The boost came after years of essentially flat state spending on mental health, said Melanie Brown-Wufter, president of the Florida Behavioral Health Association. “Our legislature has made great strides in recognizing the need for mental health and substance use treatment,” she said. “They have shown a greater willingness not only to discuss it but to fund it.”

Many jurisdictions have crisis psychological services that intervene after mass shootings, especially when schools are involved. But gun violence experts say these services typically don’t last long enough and don’t extend to the wider community.

Cost also remains a barrier for many residents who need mental health services. Even those with health insurance often face considerable out-of-pocket costs. But an equally net problem is the acute shortage of mental health providers, especially in rural America.

“Even if you have enough funding and best evidence-based practices, if we don’t have the workforce to provide care, we’re not going to be able to help people and it’s going to take time to build up that resource.” Seems,” Wesolowski said.

According to a 2020 analysis by the Commonwealth Fund, which seeks to reform the US health care system, the US has 105 mental health professionals per 100,000 people, which is half that of Australia, Canada and Switzerland. The study also found that nearly a quarter of US adults reported a mental health diagnosis such as anxiety or depression, one of the highest rates among 11 high-income countries.

Although much of the research on the health effects of mass shootings pertains to mental health, Soni and Takin also cited a 2019 study that suggested a link between the resulting anxiety and stress and physical problems in newborns. Is.

The study by Bahadir Dursan, a health economist formerly at Princeton and now at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, examined 81 US counties between 2005 and 2016 that reported mass shootings. Derson found increased rates of women giving birth to premature or low birth weight babies compared to babies born before those shooting incidents. They also found higher incidences of congenital abnormalities and other anomalies at birth, as well as more stillbirths.

Durson estimated that resulting disability, loss of economic opportunities and income, and reduction in life expectancy cost society an estimated $1 billion in those 81 countries.

Derson’s work on the population-wide health effects of mass shootings is one of the few that does not demonstrate (or even arise at the time) the specific physical effects of mass shootings. But it is far from the only study to substantiate community-wide health consequences.

A paper published this year by the research forum Global Labor Organization found that adults in the Americas living in countries where mass shootings occurred were more likely to negatively assess their physical and mental well-being than people living elsewhere. Which the researchers translated to less. Earning.

A more recent study published by the National Academies of Sciences found that the use of antidepressants prescribed to children living within five miles of a school shooting increased by 21% in the two years following the events.

Sony and Techin also published a paper using the survey data. National Journal of Economic Research Showings in 2020 that residents living in communities where mass shootings occurred reported a significant decline in their emotional well-being as well as their sense of their community as safe and a desirable place to live Gave. He investigated 47 mass shootings between 2008 and 2017.

a study in Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health It demonstrated that people who live outside of a county or state where a mass shooting took place can also be harmed. The study found that the 2016 massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, triggered severe psychological distress among gay men nationally.

“Even if it’s not happening in my county, the whole country is a crime scene,” said Tekin of American University.

mass shootings vs endemic gun violence

Researchers acknowledge that studying the effects of mass shootings is difficult. Although these episodes have become more frequent and attract more media attention, mass shootings account for less than 1% of all gun deaths in the United States. This means the data set is limited in size, especially for researchers trying to figure out which population groups are most susceptible to serious health reactions.

The researchers haven’t compared the community impact of mass shootings to the impact in areas where gun violence is a regular feature of life. Studies have found that residents who live in areas with frequent gun violence experience higher rates of anxiety and depression.

Regular gun violence affects children more severely than adults, with higher anxiety levels, sleeplessness, developmental delays, poor performance in school, development of aggressive behavior and an inability to trust.

But the two types of gun violence are different. There is a bitter, everyday reality; Other completely unexpected, post-event residents often say they never imagined this happening in their community.

“Where there are high rates of gun violence, especially in marginalized communities with little employment or opportunity, people in those communities have long felt concern about children going to school or playing in parks, the kind of thing White people in suburban areas didn’t really worry about,” said Dr. Amy Barnhorst, vice chair of community mental health in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, Davis.

“It was easy to ‘other’ myself because you didn’t live in that kind of neighborhood,” she said. “But we all live in neighborhoods like that now.”

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