Gun violence exposure increases mental health-related ED visits by children

A proximity to violence and multiple exposures increase the risk of pediatric mental health distress, according to research from Penn Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Exposure to neighborhood gun violence is associated with increased odds of mental health-related pediatric Emergency Department (ED) visits among children living within four to five blocks of a shooting, according to research by the Perelman School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Adolescent wearing a mask seated in a waiting room with an adult in a mask holding their hand.

The study revealed a significant increase in pediatric mental-health related ED visits following incidents of neighborhood gun violence, most pronounced in the two weeks after the shooting, among children residing closest to where the violence occurred, and among children exposed to multiple shootings.

“Gun violence affects the whole community, beyond the victims who are personally injured,” says lead author Aditi Vasan, an instructor of pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine and a pediatric hospitalist and health services researcher at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “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.”

The authors recommend a number of interventions that can help reduce community violence and mitigate the health impacts of violence, such as safe storage of firearms and background check laws, as well as funding mental health services and violence prevention programs.

“Symptoms of mental health distress in children appear within days of being exposed to a single shooting,” says senior author Eugenia South, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and faculty director of the Penn Urban Health Lab. “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. This research underscores the need to develop public health interventions aimed at both reducing children’s exposure to gun violence and mitigating the mental health symptoms associated with this exposure.”

This story is by Kelsey Odorczyk. Read more at Penn Medicine News.