With the recent tragedy in Parkland and the kinds of shootings that take place all too often around the country, it is important to recognize the impact of gun violence on the individuals involved. People who experience a shooting are likely to be affected by long term psychological effects of the traumatic event. Even those who are not physically harmed by the event are emotionally and mentally scarred in complicated ways.
When someone witnesses a traumatic and violent event it puts them into a state of shock and can make it more difficult for them to feel safe again. Even people that simply hear about or see coverage of the event on television can be affected by an inability to feel safe in their own neighborhood or school. The effects of gun violence are widespread and impact those in the community as well as people all across the country.
Senseless violence and shocking events can shatter our assumptions that we live in a safe world. For people that were in the midst of the traumatic experience their fear, pain and anxiety can become overwhelming and begin to affect their daily lives. Trauma can cause complex emotional issues and in some cases problems with mental illness.
Shootings and Psychological Harm
After a survivor of a shooting experiences such intense trauma they are likely to have many changes in the way that they view the world. While a mentally healthy person is able to maintain certain assumptions about the world – that it is safe and predictable, just and meaningful and that people are inherently good- those beliefs are disrupted by violence. When a shooting occurs a person’s sense of normal life and predictability disappears.
In the aftermath of a violent event, people typically experience intense feelings of helplessness, anxiety and fear. They may have thoughts and feelings that there is nothing they can do to protect themselves in the future. In their mind, that type of violence could occur anywhere, at any given moment and they will be helpless to stop it.
Those feelings of helplessness and fear can lead to symptoms of PTSD if the individual is not able to recover from their trauma. PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental illness that can affect people who witness violence or experience something very traumatic. The symptoms develop because of the acute stress associated with gun violence.
Coping with PTSD
Someone who has been traumatized can learn to recognize the symptoms of PTSD in themselves. An individual with PTSD will end up reliving and dealing with the pain of the traumatic event repeatedly because they are not able to process their emotions. These are some of the symptoms of PTSD that can occur after a shooting:
- Recurring nightmares or flashbacks about the event
- Intrusive thoughts or memories of the shooting that are frequently triggered by things in the environment
- Avoidances of places or situations that remind you of the shooting, especially where you feel a danger of the same occuring again
- Intense fear and anxiety when hearing loud sounds similar to a gunshot
- Being on edge or in constant fear of danger
- Having trouble sleeping because of feeling overly alert and jumpy at the slightest sound
People who are traumatized by gun violence live in constant fear that can make it difficult to go about their daily lives. They may also experience depression and worry in a way that makes it harder to function at work, school or in relationships. Those with PTSD symptoms or issues with depression or anxiety need to find professional treatment before the problem becomes worse.
It is important after experiencing a traumatic event to continue monitoring your symptoms and keep track of whether they seem to be declining over time or intensifying. When someone’s symptoms immediately following gun violence don’t seem to decline they could be developing PTSD. Early intervention is key to preventing a natural reaction to a stressful event from turning into a long term mental illness.
In addition to seeking a regular therapist for professional help, it is crucial that survivors of gun violence have a social support system as well. Going to support group meetings or group counseling can be a healing way to connect with and communicate with others who have also experience gun violence. The important thing is to never isolate yourself or allow feelings of avoidance to grow out of control.
Although people with anxiety, depression and PTSD may feel tempted to use alcohol or drugs as a temporary solution to their symptoms in the end it will only make the situation worse. Focusing on health, connection with others and regular therapy are long term solutions that can minimize the symptoms of a mental illness. If you or someone you love has experienced a shooting or other traumatic event then contact a treatment center or therapist in your area.