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Penn community members honor victims of gun violence at a vigil on College Green on April 20. 

Credit: Max Mester

A new study conducted by Penn Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia shows a correlation between children’s proximity to gun violence and pediatric mental health distress. 

The study, published earlier this month in JAMA Pediatrics, found that among children living within two to three blocks of shootings, there was a significant increase in mental health-related Emergency Department visits in the following 60 days. The study showed the largest increase in ED visits within two weeks after the shooting, particularly among children residing closest to incidents of gun violence, and among children exposed to multiple shootings, Penn Today reported.

The residual effects of gun violence overwhelmingly affect Black children and families. The study showed that of the children who visited the ED, 84.5% were Black and 78% were insured by Medicaid.

“Disproportionate violence exposure among Black children could perpetuate racial disparities in child health outcomes, and reducing this exposure should be a priority for health care systems working toward health equity,” the study read.

The publication of the study comes just after Philadelphia surpassed 400 homicides this year. There has been a historic rise in gun violence throughout the city in recent years and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The authors of the study emphasized the need for increased gun safety measures and support for mental health services to lessen the effects of children’s secondary exposure to firearm injury. One of the authors' proposed solutions is to divert funds previously allocated to law enforcement to provide additional support for mental health services and violence prevention. 

Megan Ranney, the co-founder of the American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine at the Aspen Institute, emphasized the significance of the study for children who have experienced gun violence.

“Children presenting to the ED in distress clearly deserve high-quality mental health care provided in a trauma-informed manner,” Ranney wrote in a Sept. 20 editorial published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Aditi Vasan, the lead author of the study, is an instructor of pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine and a pediatric hospitalist and health services researcher at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Vasan hopes this study demonstrates how gun violence can affect not just the victims, but the whole community. 

“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,” Vasan told Penn Today.