I have spent my career researching the overlap between violence and mental health, particularly as it intersects with technology. Some of my projects include automated text-message programmes to reduce fights and depression among youths with histories of fights; to evaluate social-media predictors of post-traumatic stress among youth exposed to school shootings; and to develop solutions to the cycle of bullying, physical fights, and gun violence that plague our youth.
What strikes me most about my work is the degree to which our youth feel lonely and scared. They are desperate for meaningful social connections. I’m honoured to get to provide some innovative solutions for these youth through my funded research.
I was warned by mentors to ‘stay away’ from the issue because it would doom my career. This attitude started to shift after Sandy Hook [the school shooting in 2012 in which 20 children were murdered], when many of us began to say ‘enough – it’s time to treat gun violence like the public health issue that it is’. This momentum has grown, year after year and tragedy after tragedy.
The #ThisIsOurLane Twitter response [to the National Rifle Association of America saying last November that ‘someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane’, after which emergency physicians tweeted pictures of the effect of treating firearms violence] occurred because of the long, hard work that many physicians and other healthcare professionals have been doing for years: this issue is about human lives, not political debates.
Approximately 40 per cent of American physicians are gun owners. Being a gun owner doesn’t negate a doctor’s commitment to public health and injury prevention. We are collaborating across the political spectrum to promote gun safety and common sense.
I predict that in five years, it will no longer be debated: the American public will fully accept that gun violence is a public health issue, and we will be well on our way to creating solutions.
The public already sees gun violence as the core issue of our time. It is destroying communities across the USA, physically and psychologically. As healthcare professionals, within and outside AFFIRM, we know there is hope.
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Megan Ranney (pictured below) is an associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown University, Rhode Island, and chief research officer of AFFIRM Research