Young Gun Violence Survivors Face 'Massive Health Crises'

Study explores 'unbelievable impact' on young survivors specifically, an understudied issue
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2023 10:45 AM CST
Inside the 'Unbelievable Impact' of Gun Violence on Survivors
Mayah Zamora, a survivor of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, center, talks with her mom, Christina, left, dad, Ruben, at their home in San Antonio, Tuesday, June 27, 2023.   (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Child survivors of gun violence are just that—survivors. Where others died, they were spared. Yet for many survivors, life after gun violence can feel like a curse. New research, using more than 2,000 employer-sponsored insurance claims to chart the health and economic effects for survivors under the age of 19 and their families between 2007 to 2021, shows there are "massive health crises" down the line, author Zirui Song of Harvard Medical School tells HealthDay. Youth who survived a firearm injury had a 144% increase in substance use disorders, a 117% increase in pain disorders, and a 68% increase in psychiatric disorders in the year following, compared to those who filed matching claims without experiencing gun violence, per the study published Monday in Health Affairs.

The stats are even more alarming for those who required treatment in intensive care units. These survivors had a 321% increase in psychiatric disorders and a 293% increase in pain disorders in the year following their injury, Axios reports. Compared to the control group, the health care costs for all survivors were 17 times higher than before the injury, per STAT News. But these effects went beyond the victims themselves. Parents of survivors had a 30% increase in psychiatric disorders in the year after their child was shot, while mothers had a 75% increase in mental health visits, per Axios. In cases where a child died, fathers saw more than five times an increase in psychiatric disorders relative to the control, mothers saw almost four times an increase, and siblings saw two times an increase, per STAT.

"You can start to get a grasp for the unbelievable impact of our nation's gun violence epidemic that goes far beyond the deaths that are talked about so often in the news," Yale School of Public Health Dean Megan Ranney, an emergency physician who was not involved in the study, tells STAT. "This study is particularly important because, at this point, we are a nation of survivors." Indeed, "there are so many more [gun violence] survivors relative to fatalities," says Song, a general internist and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Experts say the study likely underestimates the effects, as its data excludes victims covered by federal- or state-funded insurance, as well as those without insurance.

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A separate study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open, based on interviews with gun violence survivors around Indianapolis who were 13 to 34 at the time of injury, found half of participants avoided seeking mental health services despite suffering symptoms associated with anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress. They cited factors including stigma, fear, and a lack of trusted resources, according to a release. (More gun violence stories.)

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