The rate of antidepressant use among youth rises after local exposure to fatal school shootings, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The study represents largest analysis to date of the impacts of school shootings on youth mental health.
“School shootings are increasingly frequent in America. While there is substantial discussion about the direct victims who are killed, we know much less about the impacts of these tragedies on the hundreds of thousands of children who survive them,” study author Maya Rossin-Slater, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine.
“We were interested in studying the impacts of school shootings on one important indicator of youth mental health: antidepressant use. Our study helps quantify the full costs of school shootings and may inform interventions to help survivors.”
For their study, the researchers combined large-scale drug prescription data from IQVIA Xponent with information from the Washington Post’s school shootings database. The database included 44 school shootings from 2006 to 2015. Nearly 241,000 students were enrolled in these schools when they experienced a shooting, and 15 incidents resulted in at least one victim death.
The researchers found that antidepressant use among those under 20 rose by 21.4% on average in local communities in the 2 years following a fatal school shooting.
“In the aftermath of a fatal school shooting, there is a large and persistent increase in youth antidepressant prescription drug use in nearby areas. We do not observe any changes in antidepressant drug use following a non-fatal shooting. We also do not see effects on this outcome among adults,” Rossin-Slater told PsyPost.
However, it is still unclear whether the increased antidepressant use is the result of increases in mental illness or some other factor.
“The increase in youth antidepressant use could be due to an increase in the incidence of depression and anxiety among local youth, but it could also reflect changes in mental health care treatment in the local area. We are not able to definitively separate these two channels,” Rossin-Slater explained.
“We have a new study in which we are examining the impacts of shootings at school on students’ educational and long-term economic outcomes,” the researcher added. “In this paper, we find that shootings lead to large and persistent adverse impacts on these outcomes.”
The study, “Local exposure to school shootings and youth antidepressant use“, was authored by Maya Rossin-Slatera, Molly Schnell, Hannes Schwandt, Sam Trejo, and Lindsey Uniat.