Gunshot Survivors Are Traumatized for Years, Study Finds

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The findings of a new study involving gunshot survivors are unlikely to surprise you—but they aren’t any less depressing. It suggests that many survivors are left physically and mentally devastated by their experience, even years later.

For their new work, published Wednesday in JAMA Surgery, the researchers conducted phone interviews with more than 180 gunshot survivors who had been treated at a local trauma center sometime after January 2008. Most were men and in their 20s at the time of being shot. On average, the patients were contacted around six years after their injury.

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While this isn’t the first study to examine the long-term health of trauma survivors, the authors say there’s been relatively less focus on gunshot survivors specifically. And fewer studies still have relied on patient interviews.

Compared to their lives before being shot, they found, people were more likely to be unemployed and to be using alcohol and other drugs. Nearly half also screened positive for having post-traumatic stress disorder. And compared to the general population, the survivors were overall in worse physical and mental health.

“Moreover, these consequences do not appear to improve with time, nor are they limited to those with critical injuries requiring hospital or ICU admission,” the authors wrote.

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Sobering as these findings are, they do come with some limitations. The team initially tried to reach over 2,500 patients, but only got on the phone with 263. This group was then further whittled down to only include assault victims, while no victims of self-harm, accidental or not, were interviewed at all.

It’s possible that non-responders might be different in important ways to those who were willing to be interviewed. And the researchers weren’t able to get information on people’s socioeconomic status or educational level, both factors that can obviously influence how easily someone might recover from a traumatic event like being shot.

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But it’s clear, the authors wrote, that the “long-term outcomes of firearm injury reach beyond mortality and economic burden.” Many survivors could benefit from long-term care to improve their odds of recovery following injury, the team said.

As a result of their research, the authors also say they’ve created a program in their local trauma clinic to identify and follow-up with gunshot survivors. The program is designed to make it easier to track people’s health over time and to provide them ongoing physical and mental health support.

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About the author

Ed Cara

Science writer at Gizmodo and pug aficionado elsewhere