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.