Heterogeneous effects of spatially proximate firearm homicide exposure on anxiety and depression symptoms among U.S. youth

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Journal Article

The burden of firearm homicide in the United States is not evenly distributed across the population; rather, it disproportionately affects youth in disadvantaged and marginalized communities. Research is limited relevant to the impacts of exposure to firearm violence that occurs near where youth live or attend school - spatially proximate firearm violence - on youths' mental health and whether those impacts vary by characteristics that shape youths' risk for experiencing that exposure in the first place. Using a dataset linking the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study with the Gun Violence Archive (N = 3086), we employed propensity score matching and multilevel stratification to examine average and heterogeneous associations between spatially proximate firearm homicide exposure and anxiety and depression among all youth and then separately for boys and girls. We found a statistically significant average association between firearm homicide exposure and symptoms of depression among youth. Furthermore, heterogeneous effects analyses yielded evidence that the average association is driven by youth, and particularly boys, who are the most disadvantaged and have the highest risk of firearm homicide exposure. The results of this study suggest that the accumulation of stressors associated with structural disadvantage and neighborhood disorder, coupled with exposure to spatially proximate and deadly firearm violence, may make boys and young men, particularly Black boys and young men, uniquely vulnerable to the mental health impacts of such exposure. Ancillary analyses of potential effect moderators suggest possible future areas of investigation.

Preventive Medicine
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Part A
Date Published