After School Shootings, a Telling Rise in Prescriptions

Antidepressant use increases among students after a fatal incident
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 17, 2019 9:00 AM CST
After School Shootings, a Telling Rise in Prescriptions
Students are embraced as they reunite at a park following a shooting at Saugus High School that injured several people Nov. 14, 2019, in Santa Clarita, Calif.   (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Researchers have found a tangible sign that fatal school shootings take a long-lasting toll even on students who escape the bullets. Prescriptions for antidepressants spike among young people in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, according to a new study, reports CBS News. Specifically, the rate of such prescriptions rises 21% among children and teens who live within a 5-mile radius of the school in the first two years after a shooting, reports the Los Angeles Times. Also striking: The rate grows to 25% after three years, suggesting the trauma continues long after the headlines fade. The effect is not as pronounced for non-fatal shootings—there is an increase in prescriptions, but it's negligible—and it diminishes quickly outside the 5-mile radius. Meaning, a student in a neighboring school district would not be as strongly affected.

School shootings may represent a small fraction of gun deaths, "but they are uniquely potentially traumatizing, and may have these much larger indirect cost—depression, delayed grief, kids not able to move on and be successful in their lives," says Stanford health economist Maya Rossin-Slater, lead author of the paper published by the National Bureau for Economic Research. The team studied 44 school shootings from 2008 to 2013, 15 of which were fatal. Overall, the study counts 234 school shootings since the 1999 shooting in Columbine and estimates that 240,000 students came away from them with no physical injuries. "Ignoring the mental health consequences of these events could therefore lead to grave underestimates of their overall costs for society," says study co-author Molly Schnell of Northwestern, in a news release. (But do the drugs work?)

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