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Source: Scott Olson / Getty When an unarmed black American dies at the hands of police, the emotional impact reverberates so widely that black Americans who don’t even know the victim report distress, anxiety and depression, creating a national mental health burden nearly comparable to the stress caused by a chronic illness like diabetes, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Boston University, and Harvard University analyzed data from a nationally representative survey covering more than 100,000 Americans for the study, published Thursday in the Lancet. They found that on average, police killings of unarmed black Americans contribute nearly two additional days a year in which a black person suffers some mental health toll. The study found no such effect on the mental health of white Americans, nor did black Americans report this kind of distress over police killings of armed black suspects.

“I wasn’t so much surprised by the findings as I was saddened,” said Atheendar Venkataramani, a study author and assistant professor of health policy at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine. Hearing of an unarmed person dying in a police shooting, he said, may signal to others that they, too, could be vulnerable to violence through no fault of their own.

“Events that communicate to people that maybe they are worth less or their lives are not valued can influence people’s health,” Venkataramani said.

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