Stress over shootings, violence at schools raises LA teens’ risk for anxiety, study finds

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Parents stand at a temporary memorial in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the site of a 2018 shooting. Concerns about school violence increase teens’ risk of mental health disorders, according to a new study. File photo by Gary Rothstein / UPI | license image

Nov. 1 (UPI) – A study published Monday by the JAMA Network Open found that concerns about gun violence in their schools or other places they go put high school students at increased risk for anxiety and other mental health conditions.

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The data showed that of nearly 2,200 students in grades 11 and 12 at 10 Los Angeles schools, 38% said they were “extremely concerned or very concerned” about shootings or violence at their school or others.

Nearly a third of participating students described themselves as ‘anxious’ about these events, while 15% used the word ‘stressed’.

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After students assessed anxiety and panic disorder on a commonly used scale, researchers found that worrying, anxious, or stressed about shootings or violence in schools increased the risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder by 31%.

The data showed that students who were concerned, anxious or stressed about shooting or violence were 18% more likely to develop panic disorder.

Rehm, study co-author, told UPI in an email: “Teens today have a lot to worry about, and our study suggests that concerns about school violence and shootings are a common source of stress that may contribute to mental health problems.”

“Our findings also highlight the need for mental health education to be a legal component of the school curriculum,” said Rehm, an epidemiologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

A 2018 Pew Research survey found that more than half of elementary, middle, and high school students nationally are concerned about the possibility of a shooting in their school.

Meanwhile, a separate Pew Research survey revealed that 70% of teens ages 13 to 17 reported anxiety and depression as major problems among their peers.

In this study, Rehm and her colleagues surveyed high school students in Los Angeles three times, six months apart, over an 18-month period in 2015 and 2016.

They also asked participating students to report symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and panic disorder based on the revised Child Anxiety and Depression Scale, a 47-item questionnaire commonly used in the initial diagnosis of these conditions.

The data showed that participants who expressed worry, anxiety, or stress about violence in school were more likely to report symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder, but not depression.

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worrying about events, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Panic disorder is a similar condition that causes panic attacks, or sudden periods of intense fear, which may include heart palpitations, sweating, shakiness, or shortness of breath.

The institute estimates that less than 3% of teens nationally have been formally diagnosed with any of these disorders.

“In addition to the essential role of stronger gun violence prevention policies to reduce school shootings, policies that reduce school violence and encourage a positive school climate can be beneficial,” Rehm said.

“This could include a range of prevention strategies, such as teaching conflict mediation to students and staff and developing relationships with the community to promote a sense of inclusion and purpose,” she said.

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