School shootings survivors suffer long-term burdens from their trauma

The massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas was the second deadliest school shooting incident on record, after the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

While much of the public discussion after Uvalde has centered on actions by Gov. Greg Abbott that would make it easier for a deranged gunman to kill, or an inadequate police response that borders on criminal incompetence, and the lives of 19 children and two adults that were lost, a team of university researchers have studied the long-term effects of school shootings on survivors.

Since the Columbine massacre in 1999 in which two teenagers killed a dozen students and one teacher, at least 185 children, educators and others have been killed by gun violence at American schools, according to figures compiled by The Washington Post.

Terrified children run to safety at the Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. (Pete Luna/Uvalde Leader-News, CC BY-SA)

But this death toll captures only one part of the immense cost of gun violence in American schools. 

We have studied the long-term effects of school shootings on the health, education and economic futures of those who survive such incidents.

That research shows that despite often escaping without physical harm, the hundreds of thousands of children and educators who survive these tragedies carry scars that affect their lives for many years to come.

“In a 2020 study, we analyzed 44 school shootings that took place in the U.S. between 2008 and 2013 to assess the impact the incidents had on students’ mental health,” said Maya Rossin-Slater, PhD, an associate professor of Health Policy at Stanford University School of Medicine. “Using a unique data set documenting antidepressant prescriptions in the surrounding areas, we found that antidepressant use among youth near schools that experienced shootings increased by over 20% following the event.”

A vigil was held after the November 30, 2021, mass shooting at Oxford High School in the Detroit exurb of Oxford Township, Michigan. Four students were killed and seven people were injured, including one teacher. Survivors suffer numerous long-term consequences from deadly violence.

“Of all shootings that took place at U.S. schools in 2018 and 2019, nearly three-quarters had no fatalities. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have an impact,” said Rossin-Slater. “We found that students who had been exposed to a shooting at school were more likely to be chronically absent and to be held back a grade in the two years after the event.”

School shootings lead to an rise in absenteeism, increased usage of antidepressants and even economic losses.

“With an average of nearly 50,000 American students experiencing an act of gun violence at their school annually in recent years, our findings suggest that the aggregate costs of school gun violence in terms of lost lifetime earnings is nearly $5.8 billion,” said Rossin-Slater. “So as we mourn the 21 lives lost in Uvalde, we must not forget about the hundreds of other students who were at the school that day. These students will be forced to live with the consequences of what happened for decades to come.”

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