Story at a glance

  • As school shootings continue to rise so do the emotional impacts on survivors.
  • A new study analyzes 44 instances of school shootings across the U.S.
  • Even when controlling for variables like access to health care and pre-existing conditions, shootings had a notable effect on students’ antidepressant usage.

The increasing counts of school shootings are responsible for hundreds of injuries and deaths, but a new study reveals the toll it takes on those who survive. 

Published by Stanford University’s Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), a report revealed that close exposure to shootings has a major impact on adolescent mental health. The study states that in the aftermath of a local shooting, students’ antidepressant usage increased by 21 percent.  

Researchers determined this statistic by comparing the usage of antidepressants two years prior to a school shooting and two years after. According to the white paper published, the data was gathered from the Washington Post school shootings database and focused on individuals under the age of 20. Prescription information was gathered from private IQVIA data.

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Out of 44 observed shootings, 15 had at least one fatality. Researchers discovered a “marked increase” in the rate of antidepressants prescribed to youths in the geographical vicinity, but only in regards to survivors of the 15 shootings that resulted in deaths. A close vicinity was defined as within 5 miles of the shooting. 

Among the remaining 29 shootings studied, youth survivors did not show a statistically significant increase in antidepressant usage. 

Maya Rossin-Slater, a faculty fellow at the SIEPR, commented that “There are articles that suggest school shootings are the new norm — they’re happening so frequently that we’re getting desensitized to them — and that maybe for the people who survive, they just go back to normal life because this is just life in America. But what our study shows is that does not appear to be the case.”

To control for any confounding variables — external elements that sway the data findings one way or another — the authors further compared regional mental health care accessibility along with high-prescribing doctors versus low-prescribing doctors.

Results indicated an increase of antidepressant prescriptions in areas with both high and low concentrations of prescribing physicians, as well as among areas with differing amounts of mental health resources. 

While the authors also note that nondrug treatments could be a substitute for medication, they still found an “adverse impact from a fatal shooting on the mental health of youths in the local community.”

Co-author Hannes Schwandt summarizes the findings, saying, “The immediate impact on antidepressant use that we find, and its remarkable persistence over two, and even three years, certainly constitutes a stronger effect pattern than what we would have expected.” 

Published on Dec 18, 2019