Gun violence can cause significant, long-lasting mental harm to survivors and their families, according to a new study.
In the year after their injury, survivors are at increased risk for pain, mental health and substance use disorders. Their family members also have higher likelihood for mental health issues. Both victim and loved ones have the added burden of higher health care costs, researchers found.
About 40,000 people in the United States are killed by guns each year, while an estimated 85,000 survive gun injuries.
“Understanding how firearm injuries reverberate across peoples’ lives and families provides insights that we can use to provide better care for patients,” said lead author Dr. Zirui Song, an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School who practices at the affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
To learn more about the long-term effects of gun violence on survivors and those around them, the researchers analyzed 10 years (2008-2018) of Medicare and private insurance claims data. The data included nearly 6,500 gunshot survivors and nearly 12,500 of their family members, including spouses/partners, parents and children.
In the year after being shot, survivors had a 40% rise in pain diagnoses, a 51% rise in mental health conditions, and an 85% increase in substance use disorders, compared with other patients.
Family members of gunshot survivors had a 12% increase in mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to family members of other patients.
In addition, gunshot survivors averaged nearly $2,500 a month more in direct health care costs in the year after their injuries.
That suggests direct health care spending for U.S. gun violence survivors totals $2.5 billion in the first year alone, according to findings published April 5 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
In the first year, cost-sharing — including copays and deductibles — rose by an average $102 per person per month among gunshot survivors.
The increases in illness and spending were even more dramatic among those whose gunshot injuries resulted in admission to intensive care units, and among survivors of intentional shootings, including assaults, self-harm and law enforcement shootings, the study found.
The findings show the need for doctors to screen gunshot survivors and their family members for signs of mental health problems and to be alert to the increased risk of substance use disorders when treating pain in gunshot survivors, the researchers said.
“The heightened risk for these complications among both survivors and their families should be on clinicians’ radars, and individuals who show signs of secondary trauma should be referred for appropriate care and follow-up,” Song said in a Harvard news release.
“Given the magnitude of pain, suffering and expense that firearm injuries can cause over both the short and long term, it’s crucial that we take all the preventive measures we can to improve safety, at the same time as we enhance our guidelines for care in the aftermath of an injury to minimize impact on gunshot survivors and their families,” he added.
There’s more on gun violence at the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence.
SOURCE: Harvard Medical School, news release, April 4, 2022
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