The Impact of Mass Shootings on Survivors and Communities

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This week, the USA experienced its 355th mass shooting of 2015, the worst one of the year. 14 people were killed, more were injured, and thousands of people were affected by lockdowns and road closures as the police searched for the people responsible. Fortunately, they were apprehended, although a third person’s involvement is still being disputed.

When something like this happens, people are quick to take sides on issues of gun control of public safety. But something that should not be swept under the rug is the impact mass shootings have on the people who have witnessed it, the victims who survived it, their family and friends, and the community at large. Acts of violence like this can have a lasting impact on everyone involved.

Post traumatic stress disorder, a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress that occurs as the result of severe psychological shock, is an obvious result of witnessing such a terrifying event. Research on mass shootings is not extensive, but it is sufficient enough to draw some conclusions, one of them being that mass shootings can certainly cause PTSD for a lot of people.

Obviously, the survivors of any shooting or other act of violence should seek out help through private therapy or group counseling. Being able to talk about what happened and engage in behavioral therapy has been shown to be extremely beneficial. But in situations like this, the damage can go much further. Friends of those affected and PTSD can also affect community members who were caught in the crossfire. Having something tragic happen in your town can cause anxiety and stress that can lead to a sleep disorder.

Common symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder include:

  • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
  • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (having flashbacks)
  • Upsetting dreams about the event
  • Feeling unsafe and unsettled
  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event
  • Avoiding the place where the event happened or places that remind you of it
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Sleeplessness
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Feeling hopeless about the future
  • Irritability or angry outbursts
  • Being easily startled or frightened

It is normal to be fearful and upset after a terrifying occurrence like a mass shooting happens. If you are having these disturbing thoughts and feelings for a month or longer, it may be time to reach out to a Newport Beach psychiatrist who can help. Untreated PTSD can lead to a lot of miserable days and even suicidal thoughts.

For those of us who were not in San Bernardino (or any of the other locations of the mass shootings in 2015), the impact is less severe, but still mentally harmful. People can develop anxiety disorders worrying about going out in public or taking their children to school. They may become afraid to leave their homes or get very depressed about the state of the country and the world.

Natural treatments for anxiety include exercise, deep breathing exercises and meditation, getting plenty of rest, surrounding yourself with positive people and taking regular breaks from social media and the news. If the symptoms continue, behavioral therapy and medication may be needed. But for general feelings of anxiousness following an event like this, try some of the following tips to help you cope:

  • Talk about it. Talk to your spouse, your friends, your peers or people in a group therapy session. Express your concerns and share your experiences.
  • Honor your feelings. Remember, it is perfectly normal to feel disturbed and scared after a traumatic event. Don’t let anyone try to convince you that your feelings are not valid.
  • Take good care of yourself. Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to copy with excessive stress. Eat healthy meals, get a lot of sleep and get some kind of physical activity every day. Establish some routines that will help you feel grounded.
  • Seek balance. When a tragedy occurs, it is easy to adopt a pessimistic attitude or fall into the mindset that nothing will ever get better. Balance that viewpoint by reminding yourself of people and events that are meaningful and comforting. Remember, there are still plenty of good people in the world. Striving for balance empowers you to have a healthier perspective of yourself and the world around you.
  • Help others. Giving back is not only good for the community, it can boost your spirits immensely. Figure out how you can help people affected by the tragedy or spend some time volunteering in your hometown.

Recovery from tragedy is a long process, even for those who were not directly in harm’s way. But doing your part to remain balanced and rational will help us all work toward a resolution in the days to come.