The fatal shooting of at least 19 children and two adults in Texas on May 24, 2022, is the latest in an ever-growing list of national tragedies, leaving families and friends of the victims with grief, anguish and despair.
In addition to those experiencing a direct loss, such incidents take a toll on others, including those who witnessed the shooting, first responders, people nearby, and those who heard about it – yet – of the media. I through.
I am a trauma and anxiety researcher and therapist, and I know that the effects of this type of violence reach millions. While immediate survivors are most affected, the rest of society suffers as well.
First, immediate survivor
It is important to understand that no two people experience such dire risks in the same way. The extent of trauma, stress, or fear can vary. Survivors of a shooting may want to avoid the neighborhood where the shooting took place or a context related to the shooting, such as a grocery store, if the shooting happened at the same time. In the worst case, the survivor may develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD is a debilitating condition that develops after exposure to severe traumatic experiences such as war, natural disasters, rape, assault, robbery, car accidents – and of course, gun violence. About 8% of the US population is related to PTSD. Symptoms include high anxiety, avoidance of trauma reminders, emotional numbness, hypervigilance, persistent intrusive memories of the trauma, nightmares and flashbacks. The brain switches to fight-or-flight mode, or survival mode, and the person is always waiting for something terrible to happen.
When trauma is caused by people, as in mass shootings, the effects can be profound. The rate of PTSD in mass shootings can be as high as 36 percent among survivors. Depression, another debilitating mental condition, occurs in about 80% of people with PTSD.
Shooting survivors may also experience survivor’s guilt, a feeling that they have failed others who died or did not do enough to help them, or guilt over just being alive.
PTSD can improve on its own, but many people need treatment. Effective treatments are available in the form of psychotherapy and medications. The older it gets, the more negative effects it has on the brain, and the harder it is to treat.
Children and adolescents, who are developing their worldviews and deciding how safe it is to live in this society, may suffer even more. Exposure to terrifying experiences such as school shootings or related news can fundamentally affect the way people see the world as a safe or unsafe place, and they rely on adults and society to protect themselves. How much can you trust
They can carry such a worldview for the rest of their lives, and transfer it to their children as well. Research is also abundant on the long-term detrimental effect of such childhood trauma on a person’s mental and physical health and ability to function through their adult life.
effect on those who come nearer or later
PTSD can develop not only through personal exposure to trauma, but also through exposure to severe trauma from others. Humans have survived as a species exclusively because of their ability to fear as a group. This means that we learn fear and experience terror from exposure to the trauma and fear of others. Even viewing a scared face in black and white on a computer would light up our amygdala, the fear region of our brain, in brain imaging studies.
People in the vicinity of mass shootings may see exposed, mutilated, burnt or dead bodies. They can also see injured people in agony, hear extremely loud noises and experience chaos and terror in the post-shooting environment. They must also deal with a sense of the unknown, or lack of control over the situation. Fear of the unknown plays an important role in making people feel insecure, intimidated and hurt.
One group whose chronic exposure to this type of trauma is usually overlooked is the first responder. While victims and potential victims try to escape from an active shooter, police, firefighters and paramedics flee to the danger zone.
Many of these first responders may have children of their own in or near that school. They often face uncertainty; Threatening yourself, your partners, and others; And the aftermath of the horrific bloody shooting. This exposure happens to them very often. PTSD has been reported by up to 20% of first responders to mass violence.
widespread panic and pain
People who were not directly exposed to a disaster, but who were exposed to the news, also experienced distress, anxiety, or even PTSD. This happened after 9/11. Fear, the unknown to come – is there another strike? Are there other co-conspirators involved? — and low confidence in perceived security can all play a role in this.
Whenever there is a mass shooting in a new place, people come to know that that kind of place is no longer in the safe list. People are not only concerned about the safety of themselves but also their children and other loved ones.
Is there any benefit to such a tragedy?
We can channel collective pain and frustration to encourage meaningful changes, such as making gun laws safer, having constructive discussions, informing the public about the risks and calling on lawmakers to take real action. In times of hardship, humans can often ooze a sense of community, support one another, and fight for their rights, including the right to be safe in schools, concerts, restaurants, and movie theaters.
A beautiful result of the tragic shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in October 2018 was the solidarity of the Muslim community with the Jewish. This is especially productive in the current political climate, in which fear and division are so common.
Sadness, anxiety, anger, and frustration can be expressed in activities such as engaging in activism and volunteering to help victims. It is also important not to spend too much time watching television coverage; Turn it off when it stresses you out too much.
Finally, studies have shown that exposure to media coverage for several hours daily after a mass trauma can lead to high stress. So watch the news twice a day to be informed, but don’t keep looking for graphic images and news coverage and exposure. The news cycle tends to report similar stories without much additional information.
Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article originally published on March 26, 2021.