Gun violence is a public health crisis that threatens the physical and mental health of our communities. It deserves a public health response.
Incidents of gun violence and the fear of gun violence in public settings cause tremendous stress, anxiety, and trauma. The National Center for PTSD estimates that 28 percent of people who have survived a mass shooting develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and about a third develop acute stress disorder. This presents a preventable strain on our communities and on our under-resourced mental health system. Additionally, the recurrence of these traumatic incidents can be very triggering, inciting vicarious trauma as people witness the violence nationally.
While this is a complicated issue, the risk factors identified in research can help inform a comprehensive set of policy solutions to limit gun violence and correlated mental health stressors.
- There is a correlation between access to lethal means and suicide. Access to firearms increases the risk of suicide and homicide, particularly with those experiencing mental illness symptoms. Additionally, firearms are consistently the most lethal modality for suicide by far. In fact, access to a gun in the home increases the risk of death by suicide by 300%. Limiting access to firearms, such as with lock boxes in the home, age restrictions for firearm purchases, and background checks, are critical measures to decreasing suicide risk.
- Mental illness is not a predictor of violence or violent behavior. In fact, the majority of violent acts are committed by individuals who are not diagnosed with a mental illness. It is stigmatizing to individuals with mental disorders, particularly severe mental illness, to unfoundedly label gun violence perpetrators as mentally ill. Negative public perceptions of those with mental illness perpetuate falsehoods that behavioral disorders are not common and not treatable.
- Gun violence and mass shootings cause stress, particularly amongst marginalized communities. According to the American Psychological Association, 44% of Hispanic adults and 43% of African American adults report they do not know how to cope with the stress they feel as a result of a mass shooting (compared with 30% of their white counterparts).
- A recent study (a partnership between Research Triangle Institute (RTI) and Crisis Text Line, and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) found that in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas in May 2022, there was a two-fold increase in gun-related crises conversations at Crisis Text Line. These findings suggested that even indirect exposure to mass shooting events through news and social media had cascading effects on the mental health of individuals outside of directly impacted communities.
Crisis Text Line is here to support. Our collective vision of a more empathetic world has never been more urgent. This is why we’re here—to build the empathy movement the world needs.
For tips on coping with gun violence, visit this page. Text HOME to 741741 to reach a volunteer Crisis Counselor for free, 24/7.