US teens' top source of stress is now the nation's biggest worry

High schoolers' fear of mass shootings may be turning into America's nightmare.

stress rope

Mass shootings are the greatest single source of stress for people in the United States, according to the 2019 Stress in America survey. And that’s changing how almost a quarter of all Americans live their lives.

More than seven in ten Americans (71 percent) find the threat of mass shootings extremely stressful — the stress is especially bad among people of color. Some 85 percent of people who identified as Hispanic and almost eight in ten black and Asian American respondents say these atrocities are highly stressful.

The survey was released Wednesday by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Vaile Wright, director of practice research and policy at the APA and an author on the report, tells Inverse the results — and the fact that minorities are more likely to experience stress about mass shootings — aren’t a surprise.

“People of color are being targeted. Whether it is the El Paso shooting or some other issue, marginalized groups are disproportionately being effected,” she says.

mass shooting stress by race graphic
Ten percent more Americans cite mass shootings as their biggest source of stress in 2019 than did in 2018, finds a new survey.

The new report builds on the 2018 Stress in America survey’s finding that high schoolers aged 15 to 17 were most likely to be stressed out by gun violence. Three quarters of these teens said the threat of mass shootings made them very stressed, while almost the same number said fear of school shootings in particular was stressful.

Overall, 10 percent more Americans say they are stressed out by mass shootings than did in 2018. The new survey suggests that in 2019 this specific fear has crept into the public conscience more broadly. Part of the reason for this may be the consistency of the public debate around gun control and gun violence, says Wright. But it also gibes with the uptick in mass shootings in 2019 — the more mass shootings, the more stress people are likely to feel about them as a result, she says. And stress can affect their quality of life.

“What you are hearing from people is, ‘Where is safe?’”

A third of US adults say their fear of mass shootings stops them from attending certain events — almost as many report feeling like they can’t go anywhere without having to worry about being the victim of a mass shooting, according to an APA survey released in August 2019.

Public events, malls, schools and universities and movie theaters are the places people are most worried about an attack taking place, it found. Wright says that makes sense: All of these places are locations most people feel able to identify personally with.

“You can walk away saying, ‘That could have been me,’” she says.

The stat that a quarter of Americans are changing their behavior is particularly worrying, says Wright.

“That is too many people who are afraid to go out and live their daily lives. And the problem with avoidance is that it multiplies, she says. “Avoidance of Walmart starts to be avoidance of the grocery store, and so it starts to build onto that.”

mass shootings change behavior graphic
Fear of mass shootings has altered Americans' behavior, according to the American Psychological Association.

Chronic stress can also have a serious impact on a person’s mental health and physical well-being, says Wright. Along with anxiety, depression and trouble sleeping, heart problems, high blood pressure and immune issues can all come hand-in-hand with chronic stress, she says. A study published this week in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that stressful experiences in childhood and adolescence is associated with increased levels of a biomarker for inflammation in adulthood, suggesting that stress could put these individuals at higher risk of developing disease and even death.

Of the other stressors the report looked at, health care (and especially health care costs) and the 2020 Presidential election are the second and third most common sources of stress for Americans.

mass shootings stress graphic
More Americans are stressed about mass shootings than they are about their health, according to a new survey.

Climate change and discrimination also increasingly weigh heavily on the minds of Americans, according to the survey.

The proportion of people who are significantly stressed about climate change and discrimination both increased. Some 56 percent of US adults find the climate stressful, up from 51 percent in 2018. And a quarter of US adults said discrimination takes a toll on their lives in 2019 — an increased of five percent since 2015, the survey found.

While the majority of 2019 survey respondents say they think the present is the lowest point in America’s history, they are also hopeful about the future. That may be because when people are asked about the future, they tend to think about their personal future, and not the future of things they can’t necessarily control, like climate change or the nation as a whole, says Wright.

“I think that has to do with how one views the environment versus the individual, and what you have control over. When people are thinking about their personal future, thats something we think we have some control over,” she says.