|Mass shootings have, sadly, become a part of the common reality in many countries around the world. / Photo by andriano via 123rf|
Mass shootings have, sadly, become a part of the common reality in many countries around the world. In the US alone, the number of mass shootings as of September 1, 2019 has reached 283. This puts 2019 on pace to be the first year since 2016 with an average of more than one mass shooting a day. CBS News, the news division of American television and radio service CBS, reported that the toll of all of those mass shootings included several high-profile, mass-casualty attacks.
It was also reported that as of September, there have been a total of 17,662 shooting incidents across the country, which resulted in 9,932 gun deaths and 19,868 injuries. While we focus on the casualties of these incidents, we must also pay attention to how these can affect the victims’ mental health. For survivors of mass shootings, the daunting mental and physical tolls do not stop when the shooting does. Most of the time, they fight a constant battle to overcome a variety of physical and mental health impacts.
Reports showed that up to 95 percent of people who have been exposed to mass shooting experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event, either experiencing it or witnessing it, in the early days after the incident. Most of these people feel the psychological effects of the trauma months later. Jonathan Vickburg, a family therapist from Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, stated that the possibility that an act of violence could happen anywhere makes survivors of mass shootings extremely anxious.
|Teens are at greater risk for self-harm following a mass shooting compared to adults. / Photo by Chanintorn Vanichsawangphan via 123rf|
How Mass Shootings Affect Survivors’ Mental Health
A mass shooting incident may have ended, but its lingering effects would be felt by many people, especially those who have survived or have seen it. Most of the time, this experience results in lifetime anxiousness and fear. Dr. Alauna Curry, a Veterans Affairs psychiatrist, who specializes in psychological trauma, stated that trauma from gun violence can impact anyone. These individuals can also develop mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
According to ABC News, the news division of the American Broadcasting Company, individuals who have experienced trauma are often diagnosed with PTSD. They suffer from several symptoms that include avoiding previously enjoyable activities, having nightmares and flashbacks, feeling continuously on edge with increased irritability, and having recurrent thoughts of the traumatic event. Meanwhile, people who have anxiety often have a worried response to their normal daily activities.
Dr. David Austern, a psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, stated that people who are wounded during a shooting incident and those who are at the scene of one are most likely to develop PTSD. The emotional toll of this event can affect the way they live and even their perspective in life. While most people who survive extreme trauma don’t kill themselves, experts stated that exposure to violence does seem to increase suicidal thinking. Unfortunately, some act on those plans.
Earlier this year, it was reported that two teenagers who survived the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., took their own lives within days of each other. During the same month, the father of a child killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., also took his own life. These incidents lead some to raise questions about the lingering effects of such trauma on a person’s mental health.
According to Science News, an American bi-weekly magazine devoted to short articles about new scientific and technical developments, researchers have been studying the factors that cause someone from thinking about suicide to carrying out the act. Studies suggested the three-step theory, which explains that those who can act on suicidal thoughts are predisposed to handle higher levels of pain, have come to see violence as normal, and have access to guns or other means to carry out their plans.
Studies have also shown that teens are at greater risk for self-harm following a mass shooting compared to adults because they are more vulnerable. It’s difficult for them to envision a better future or the future at all. They also struggle to see how their death would affect their loved ones. Fortunately, this can be addressed. “We have good data that describe the percentage of people who recover, [and] the percentage of people who develop post-traumatic stress. We don’t have a good idea of what we can do to the following trauma to change those outcomes,” said Amy Mezulis, an adolescent clinical psychologist at Seattle Pacific University.
Life-Threatening Trauma and Guilt
Laura Wilson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, stated that mass shootings are a different type of trauma to people. Most of the time, survivors are confronted with the idea that bad things can happen to good people. It’s difficult for them to reconcile and understand that even innocent and ordinary people can be victims of such violence.
According to TPR, the on-air name for a group of public radio stations serving south-central Texas, individuals who survived a mass shooting or lost someone in a mass shooting often later succumb to the lingering impact of trauma and grief. The unimaginable grief of these people can be devastating. “It’s survivor’s guilt, and there’s the grief, the loss, the emptiness, and you’ve got to fill those voids with something,” stated Sheri Kay, a licensed practical counselor.
Worse, these people would stop engaging with their families, friends, and the world. They become emotionally cut off. And experts reported that emotional isolation is dangerous because it makes people think that they are alone.
Thus, people who survived or seen a mass shooting incident need to seek professional help. The impacts of this unfortunate event on their lives can cause trauma, leading to mental health problems. Ultimately, they need to feel that they are not alone.