The impact of exposure to gun violence fatality on mental health outcomes in four urban U.S. settings

Melissa E. Smith, Tanya L. Sharpe, Joseph Richardson, Rohini Pahwa, Dominique Smith, Jordan DeVylder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rationale: Given the widespread availability of firearms, high prevalence of gun violence in the U.S., and the intersection of race, cumulative violence and adverse mental health outcomes, it is important to understand the mental health consequences of exposure to gun violence fatality on racially/ethnically diverse secondary victims. Objective: The aims of this study were to examine 1) the prevalence and demographic differences in exposure to gun violence fatality; 2) the associations between exposure and depression, psychological distress, suicidal ideation and psychosis-like experiences; and 3) the interaction between race and exposure in relation to depression, psychological distress, suicidal ideation and psychotic experiences. Methods: Participants (n=1615) were adult community residents from Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C, who participated in the online Survey of Police-Public Encounters. Chi-square, linear, and logistic regression were used to test study aims. Results: Twenty-four percent of respondents reported exposure to gun violence fatality. Black, Latinx, younger, and those of lower income and education were disproportionately exposed. Exposed respondents had significantly higher levels of psychological distress, depression, suicidal ideation and/or psychotic experiences compared to those not exposed. There was a significantly stronger association between exposure and depression among Latinxs and “other” races relative to Whites. Conclusions: Findings suggest that vicarious exposure to gun violence fatality is widespread, disproportionately experienced by racial/ethnic minorities, and related to a higher prevalence of mental health symptoms. Implications of these findings are that clinicians should attend to the mental health needs of people vicariously exposed to gun violence fatality, and that gun violence reduction interventions may positively impact community-level mental health. Given that Blacks and Latinxs are disproportionately exposed to gun violence, a more extensive examination of exposure to gun violence fatality as a social determinant of mental health is warranted using longitudinal and nationally representative data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112587
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Feb 2020


  • Firearm homicide
  • Mental health and psychological outcomes
  • Racial and ethnic minorities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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