Panel discusses how shootings affect those unscathed by bullets

A panel of faculty members at the School of Medicine said shootings can affect the mental health of people close to the violence.

- By Mandy Erickson

Paul Costello, far left, moderated a panel on gun violence featuring Kathy Staats, David Studdert and Maya Rossin-Slater.
Mandy Erickson

Shootings have a ripple effect: They harm not only those wounded or killed, but everyone adjacent to the violence, including friends and family members, according to a panel of Stanford Medicine experts.

The panelists spoke Feb. 4 at an event titled “Responding to Gun Violence in America.” It was held as part of the Stanford Health Policy Forum series.

Maya Rossin-Slater, PhD, assistant professor of health research and policy, said that for students, experiencing a shooting can affect “whether or not they go to college, how they fare throughout their lives.”

In communities that experienced school shootings, prescriptions for antidepressants — used to treat depression as well as post-traumatic stress disorder — rose by 20% among youth during the two or three years after the events, Rossin-Slater said. “Poor mental health has lasting consequences,” she added.

Gun violence and its consequent mental health problems affect a vast number of U.S. students, said Paul Costello, the panel’s moderator and a senior communications strategist at School of Medicine. Since the Columbine massacre in 1999, nearly a quarter of a million students have attended school when and where a shooting occurred, Costello said. 

Panelist Kathy Staats, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine, was an undergraduate at Virginia Tech and a member of a student first-responder squad in 2007, when the university was the site of the then-deadliest mass shooting in the nation’s history. She said the shooting spree shocked the school community, and the memory still resonates with her every time she hears of another event.  

 “On the flip side, when you see the worst in humanity, you sometimes see the best,” she said. “The community response was incredible.”

“I chose my future career based on that decision,” she said, adding that many of her fellow first responders became firefighters, paramedics, nurses and physicians.

Most gun deaths are suicides

Mass shootings receive the lion’s share of media attention, yet David Studdert, PhD, professor of medicine and of law, said that two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides. Most of those who attempt suicide do not die, he said, but having a gun available at least triples the chance the attempt will be successful. 

Those who attempt suicide often don’t try again, he said. “Suicide is usually an impulsive act,” he explained, adding that the vast majority of people who attempt suicide once ultimately die from other causes.

Staats said that she and her emergency medicine colleagues will ask patients who have attempted suicide if they have access to firearms because if they attempt suicide with a gun, “they will likely be successful.” 

Now that federal agencies have started funding research into gun violence, Studdert and Rossin-Slater said they are planning to study policies intended to reduce harm. Studdert intends to look into the effectiveness of red-flag laws, which allow courts to confiscate the guns of people who are determined to be a danger to themselves or others. 

Rossin-Slater is studying more than 50 schools in Texas that have experienced shootings, and what sort of interventions helped the students. 

“We want to know how we can best allocate resources,” she said. 

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit

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