Living within a few blocks of a shooting increases the risk that a child will end up visiting the emergency department for mental health-related problems, researchers say.
The new study found significant increases in mental health-related ER visits in the two weeks after a neighborhood shooting, especially among kids who lived closest to it and those exposed to multiple shootings.
"Gun violence affects the whole community, beyond the victims who are personally injured," said lead study author Dr. Aditi Vasan. She is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine and a pediatric hospitalist.
"Now that we have confirmed exposure to shootings negatively impacts the mental health of children, we can work to develop ways to provide preventive and responsive support for children and families exposed to neighborhood gun violence," she added in a university news release.
For the study, the researchers used data from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to examine the number of emergency room visits of 2- to 12-year-olds that were mostly for mental health concerns, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, intentional ingestion of harmful substances and other psychiatric emergencies. The investigators compared these ER visits with Philadelphia police reports of shootings.
Of over 54,300 patients studied, about 43,100 had one or more emergency department visits in the 60 days after a shooting. More than 42,900 had one or more ER visits in the 60 days before a shooting.
The data included more than 2,600 shooting incidents. Of those, 31% corresponded to one or more mental health-related ER visits within 60 days. Kids living within two to three blocks of a shooting were more likely to have a mental health-related emergency department visit, the researchers found.
According to researcher Dr. Eugenia South, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and faculty director of the Penn Urban Health Lab, "Symptoms of mental health distress in children appear within days of being exposed to a single shooting. What's more, in Philadelphia and other cities across the United States, gun violence disproportionately affects Black children and families, adding to existing health disparities."
South said the findings underscore the need for public health interventions aimed at reducing children's exposure to gun violence and the mental health impact associated with such exposure.
The findings were published online Sept. 20 in JAMA Pediatrics.
To learn more about the impact of gun violence on kids, visit the Child Welfare League of America.
SOURCE: University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, news release, Sept. 20, 2021