Nov 20, 2019

Gun violence survivors experience increased risk of mental harm

Assorted pistols on display

Photo: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Many survivors of gun violence are prone to post-traumatic stress disorder, increased alcohol and drug abuse, and unemployment up to years after their physical wounds heal and even when the injuries are minor, a JAMA study released on Wednesday illustrates.

Why it matters: Far more people in the U.S. survive gunshot wounds than those who are killed by firearm injuries.

The big picture: Gun violence has been on the rise, affecting Americans in the form of suicides, homicides, unintentional deaths and law enforcement killings, according to the most recent data between 2007–2017. More than 1.2 million Americans were shot in that 10-year stretch, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

What they found: Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania tracked a decade's worth of medical records to find the 3,088 gunshot wound patients. 183 responded and were surveyed on their lives before and after their injuries.

  • Almost half of the patients screened positive for probable PTSD years later. 33% discharged with minor injuries screened positive for PTSD.
  • Though the study is one of the first to track survivors of gun violence, limitations in this study include a small sample size. The study authors recognize the possibility of selection bias.

What to watch: Researchers say a different approach to treating victims of gun violence may be needed. Those hospitalized for gun injuries are typically released quickly and without any mental health check or follow-ups.

  • They add that there is growing evidence that gunshot trauma is harder to recover from than other types of injuries.

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