Santa Fe High School, Las Vegas, Stoneman Douglas High School, First Baptist Church. Since 1966, 1,102 people have been killed in mass shootings in the United States. Thousands more have been injured, both physically and psychologically. Although mass shootings account for only a tiny fraction of the country’s gun deaths, they are uniquely disturbing because they happen without warning in just about any place imaginable: schools, churches, office buildings and concert venues.
In the words of Laura Wilson, PhD, co-author and editor of “The Wiley Handbook of the Psychology of Mass Shootings” and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington, “Simply by definition, mass shootings are more likely to trigger difficulties with beliefs that most of us have, including that we live in a just world and that if we make good decisions, we’ll be safe”. After a mass shooting, people tend to feel very unsafe regardless of where they are or who they are with.
It is estimated by the National Center for PTSD that 28% of people who have witnessed a mass shooting develop Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) and approximately a third develop acute stress disorder.
While mass shootings are truly horrific, it is important to not forget the lives that were lost. The Washington Post’s article,” The terrible numbers that grow with each mass shooting”, has a complete list of all mass shooting victims. As well as various other statistics regarding mass shootings.
Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD)
PTSD can develop after a very stressful, frightening or distressing event or after a prolonged traumatic experience, such as a mass shooting. While not everyone who experiences a mass shooting suffers from PTSD, those who do are by no means weak; PTSD is not a sign of weakness.
There are three categories of symptoms associated with PTSD which include:
- Avoiding reminders of the trauma including places, people, thoughts or other activities that can be associated with the event.
- Reliving the event through recurring nightmares or other intrusive images that occur at randomly any time. Typically reliving the event will result in extreme emotional or physical reactions such as chills, heart palpitations or panic when faced with reminders of the event.
- Being on guard or hyper-aroused at times, including feeling sudden anger or irritability, having difficulty sleeping or a lack of concentration and being overly alert and easily startled.
When left untreated, PTSD can lead to a variety of serious symptoms, including:
- Loneliness: PTSD can potentially make a person very difficult to be around and is often undiagnosed, and as a result, individuals with the disease may end up isolated and alone.
- Anger management issues: For some people, the moments of recurring stress and anxiety lead to outbursts of anger or rage. This can result in child or spousal abuse or even public violence.
- Severe depression: Serious depression is always a risk with PTSD. Many sufferers may demonstrate suicidal thoughts or actions while in the midst of a PTSD episode.
Acute Stress Disorder
Acute Stress Disorder is the development of severe anxiety, dissociation and other symptoms that occur within one month after experiencing an extreme traumatic event. Someone with this disorder may experience difficulty concentrating, feel detached from their body, experience the world as unreal or dreamlike or have increasing difficulty recalling specific details of the event. Additionally, there is overlap from this disorder with PTSD; there are many similar, overlapping symptoms.
Specific acute stress disorder symptoms include:
- The person experienced, witnessed or was confronted with (e.g., can include learning of) an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others.
- Though not required, the person’s response is likely to involve intense fear, helplessness or horror.
Also, either during or following the event, 3 or more of the following dissociative symptoms will be present:
- Detachment from society or absence of emotional responsiveness
- Loss of awareness of his or her surroundings
- Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma (dissociative amnesia)
For acute stress disorder to be diagnosed, the symptoms above must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning or impairs the individual’s ability to pursue some necessary task.
Early Intervention and Treatment is Important
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) is an innovative, evidence-based therapy for PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress and similar mental health issues. Initially, the therapy was primarily used to help veterans suffering from PTSD. One of the major advantages is the speed at which ART is able to bring relief. On average, one to five sessions are needed, not months or years of expensive psychiatric treatment.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy works by reprogramming the traumatic memories that are preventing the inflicted individual from enjoying the full life they deserve. The techniques work equally well on bullying victims, combat vets and others.
If you have experienced a mass shooting and suffer from the emotional and psychological pain it has left behind, contact ART to learn more or find a therapist near you.