Since the 1999 Columbine shooting in Colorado that left 12 students and one teacher dead, active shooter drills in the U.S. have become more common.
These drills, sometimes unannounced, are designed to teach students and faculty how to act in the event an active shooter is in their school, often involving masked gunmen actors and fake gunfire.
In some instances, students learn how to quickly lock doors, turn off lights and take shelter, but new research released Thursday shows that regardless of education level, the mental health of all involved is significantly stained with increased levels of depression, stress and anxiety following drills.
Meanwhile, for-profit companies charge schools thousands of dollars for the training, making the active shooter drill industry worth an estimated $2.7 billion — “all in pursuit of a practice that, to date, is not evidence-based,” according to the researchers.
The findings highlight the consequences of pondering death and how to escape it at much younger ages than generations past.
A nonprofit called Everytown for Gun Safety collaborated with the Georgia Institute of Technology to analyze nearly 28 million Twitter and Reddit posts in a search for terms such as therapy, suicidal, pain and pills that could indicate heightened concern or fear around the time of scheduled drills.
“This research unveiled alarming impacts of active shooter drills on the mental health of the students, teachers, and parents who experience them,” the report said. “In their current state, active shooter drills threaten the well-being of entire school communities over prolonged periods of time, leaving those who are affected in need of continued support to process their aftermath.”
“Everytown urges school decision-makers to assess whether the potential but unproven benefits of these drills outweigh their known collateral consequences.”
DEPRESSION, ANXIETY AND STRESS SOARED AFTER DRILLS
The research team discovered that social media posts alone displayed a 42% increase in anxiety and stress from the 90 days before active shooter drills to the 90 days after them. The frequent use of words such as “afraid, struggling and nervous” served as evidence, according to the report.
Signs of depression increased by 39% based on posts that featured the words “therapy, cope, irritability and suicidal” following drill events. Concerns about friends grew by 33%, concerns about social situations rose by 14% and concerns about work soared by 108%, the researchers found.
“I can tell you personally, just as an educator, we were not okay [after drills]. We were in bathrooms crying, shaking, not sleeping for months. The consensus from my friends and peers is that we are not okay,” one anonymous K-12 teacher wrote on social media, according to the report.
Worries over health also jumped by 23% while fears about death rose by 22%. “The analysis revealed words like blood, pain, clinics, and pills came up with jarring frequency, suggesting that drills may have a direct impact on participants’ physical health or, at the very least, made it a persistent topic of concern,” the researchers wrote.
An anonymous parent tweeted, “my kindergartener was stuck in the bathroom, alone, during a drill and spent a year in therapy for extreme anxiety. in a new school even, she still has to use the bathroom in the nurses office because she has ptsd from [ … ]