COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Many kids and teens spent a portion of their developmental years in isolation as the pandemic forced a new normal around the world. Now as it eases its grip, things are opening back up including gatherings larger than these kids have seen in two years, all while gun violence is on the rise.

It’s a combination of events that mental health experts find concerning.

“There’s a cumulative effect on kids and families,” said Pediatric Psychologist for Nationwide Children’s Hospital Dr. Sarah VerLee. “So they’re at an increased risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress.”

VerLee said the stress can occur from early on in a child’s life and can present itself through many different symptoms. In younger children or toddlers, it can be more behavioral like a lack of sleep, but as children get older, they may express these concerns verbally.

“We’ll also see them starting to talk more about their feelings, maybe expressing anxious thoughts, feeling worried about things that they’re seeing, having noted talking to their friends about stressful subjects,” VerLee said. “That sometimes results in them avoiding situations that we would otherwise want them to be in like, you know, school or other crowded areas.”

According to The Gun Violence Archive, there have been more than 300 mass shootings and more than 24,000 total gun-related deaths in the U.S. so far this year. That’s more than 8,500 firearm-related deaths than the gun violence archive recorded for the entire year of 2019.

According to public records, there has been a 19.5 percent decrease in shootings reported in Columbus this year, but with nearly 500 recorded shootings since January, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said it’s important the city continues reducing these numbers.

“The impact of COVID — the isolation, depression, the increased need for mental health particularly for young people that may have been disconnected and isolated for the last couple of years,” said Ginther. “And that’s why reducing violence and making our neighborhoods safer is our number one priority.”

He said the impact of gun violence doesn’t stop at the victim.

“Violence doesn’t just impact the victim and the perpetrator, but the family of both and the neighborhood as a whole,” Ginther said. “When a shooting takes place, or an act of violence takes place, it has trauma that ripples throughout a community and neighborhood.”

VerLee said one way for parents to help children struggling with the stress from these events or PTSD is by starting a conversation using open-ended questions.

“Really, what parents and caregivers can do, is just start the conversation,” she said. “Check in with their kids about what they’re looking at, what they’re talking about with their friends, and asking them about stressful topics and what do they think about that. You know, just using open-ended questions.”

For resources and tips on how to start these conversations, visit Nationwide’s On Our Sleeve webpage.