Active shooter drills can have lasting effects students’ mental health

Earthquakes, fires, and active shooters are all scenarios schools train for every year.

But the latter is unlike any other because an active shooter drill can have lasting effects on the mental health of students.

Training video shows an active shooter walking on campus and students grabbing anything they could to fight back.

It was shown to students across Federal Way Public Schools in 2019 but has since been pulled for being too real.

“If we become so obsessed with ‘this is an active shooter,’ and we are in such a state of heightened alertness, we’re going to project that fear down to the kids,” said Dr. Gregory Jantz, the founder of The Center, A Place for Hope.

Jantz has spent decades focusing on mental health, which he says is damaged by active shooter drills.

“When we think about the worst possible things — a school shooter — this is obviously an immediate trigger, that it re-triggers all the past trauma,” said Jantz. “The number one diagnosis for our kids right now is anxiety. So, they’re already anxious.”

A study by the Georgia Institute of Technology researched the impacts of school shooter drills on mental health. It showed the drills increased anxiety, stress, and depression by 39% to 42% in students and staff following drills. The negative impacts can last for up to 90 days.

With similar concerns in mind, state lawmakers passed a law last year that bans schools from holding active shooter drills if they’re too realistic.

But Jantz said while it’s a law in the right direction, it should go further.

“I wouldn’t call it an ‘active shooter drill,’” he said.

Jantz said training should encompass the core issues instead of the specific concern of active shooters.

“We can encompass a lot in ‘the drill’ heading and normalize some of this. We don’t push doing an active shooter drill to create fear,” said Jantz.

Perhaps they could be called something like “stranger danger” drills that could be more proactive instead of conducting specific drills that often project the fears of adults.

“I understand the fear. But remember, kids are a sponge. If we’re projecting predominately fear, they’re going to absorb all that. And they’re going to feel our fear,” said Jantz. “It’s a fearful topic, I get that. But we need to address it and really empower our teachers, empower our students. They will become sharper.”

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