According to CNBC, Gen-Z was the most depressed generation during COVID-19. This generation’s youth was raised on terrorist attacks, school shootings and now a global pandemic. And so while returning to schools has no doubt helped teens’ mental health and given them much-needed social interaction, sentiments of unsafety and fear have increased due to the perpetual gun violence in America.
The upward incline in gun violence isn’t something new to us as it’s been advancing since the twentieth century, but it is intensely worrisome. There have been a total of 862 incidents of gunfire in schools since 2013 on school grounds.
In an interview with Angel Noriega, a student at Mount Pleasant High School in Michigan, he vocalized how the Oxford shooting which occurred not too far from him and impacted his schooling, alongside influencing the mental health of himself and his peers.
“There were a few girls who had mental breakdowns,” he said when being asked how other students reacted to the shooting.
People he’d spoken to were anxious and often scared and his own mental health was also greatly negatively affected. He also mentioned how some parents pulled their kids out of school and transferred them elsewhere after tensions had risen.
“At one point, we had gotten three school shooter threats in the span of a week,” he said.
After the shooting, the school started a sign-in and sign-out system for using the bathrooms as well as increasing the number of school police on campus from zero to at least four or more at one time. While efforts were made to increase safety, there is still going to be that sense of fear attached to the school for those teens and students everywhere.
Studies have proven that students have increased social anxiety due to gun violence. While a lot of that anxiety derives from school shootings, we also need to take into account the large stretch of gun violence and how impactful it is as a whole.
During summer 2020, an uproar of political protests occurred, especially in Los Angeles. While Girls Academic Leadership was still on zoom, it was no exception for the decline of mental health which was visible even during remote learning. On multiple occasions, students mentioned the fear they felt because of the over-policing and gun violence that they saw from police departments nationwide during check-ins in classes.
Whether that fear is because of the murders of BIPOC or the intense number of school police that flooded schools finally being recognized, gun violence was tied into the ongoing problem. During the 2020-2021 school year, through Zoom, protests were held by Students Deserve, an organization based on highlighting and educating students who fight or want to join the fight for the safety and rights of other youth and students.
During these protests, students would turn off their cameras and microphones and project a profile picture that read, “Fully defund and abolish the Los Angeles school police department.” A majority of students throughout the day turned off their cameras and microphones as well as delivered messages in the chat feature stating what they were protesting.
The fact of the matter is that teens wanted to see change, and they still do. This can be undoubtedly seen by the way that students deserve to be able to divest $25 million from school police and back into schools. That change shows how much youth wanted to stop the crimination, over-policing and gun violence they saw.
Even at the school district level, the change they were able to create was not only massively visible but insanely impactful for youth. Some ways you can support Students Deserve is by joining or starting a chapter at your own school, donating to through their website and even taking part in protests they lead. Gun violence is not something that we want to change, it’s something that needs to change.
We know that statistics and studies have shown beyond doubt that gun violence directly affects the livelihood and mental health of everyone, especially that of high school students. Whether that be school shootings, protests or fear. Given the severity and constant recurring gun violence in America, it’s important to tackle this head-on, gain knowledge and educate yourself on possible solutions and ways to minimize it.
Whether that be focusing on and learning more about current events, over-policing or even donating to different organizations that focus on preventing gun violence, each is just as important in ending this cycle of violence.