Psychological Effects of a Shooting

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Gun violence continues to be a serious concern in the United States. From 2000 to 2017, America experienced 250 active shooter incidents, 1,418 related injuries and 799 deaths, according to FBI data. Over the years, the number of shootings has steadily increased. The year 2000 saw just one active shooter incident, while there were 30 in 2017

Shootings can have serious ramifications on the lives of everyone involved. Victims can suffer life-changing injuries, families can lose loved ones and witnesses can suffer long-lasting psychological damages. The effects shootings can have on the mental health of witnesses and survivors varies significantly. Ongoing studies on the subject shed light on the many potential negative psychological effects of a shooting.

Shootings and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Many experiences, problems and symptoms people suffer after surviving shootings fall under the umbrella of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a common condition among people who survive or witness life-threatening events. PTSD stems from the activation of the mind’s natural fight-or-flight response in dangerous situations. For some people, fear triggers a long-term response the survivor can feel for weeks, months or years after the event. The medical term for this response is post-traumatic stress disorder.

A child who witnessed a school shooting may show signs of PTSD after the incident. Common symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, bedwetting, regression, mood swings, outbursts, behavioral problems, depression and anxiety. Children may have episodes where they re-experience the event due to triggers such as the bang of fireworks or a fire alarm going off. PTSD symptoms may go away on their own or require professional intervention.

Children and adults suffering from PTSD after a shooting may be able to manage or eliminate their symptoms through anti-anxiety medications, psychotherapy, meditation and other treatments. Each person is unique. Someone with PTSD after a shooting should see a health care provider for a tailored treatment plan. People with dual diagnoses, such as PTSD and depression, may require additional treatments or therapies to overcome the psychological effects of a shooting.

Tips for Parents

If your child survived a school shooting, help him or her cope with the aftermath as best you can. Some children may bounce back quickly, while others may need more time to process their emotions and work through psychological traumas. Give your child as much time as he or she needs to recover. Facilitate psychological wellness with a few tips you and your family can do at home.

  • Make your home a safe space for your child to talk about his or her feelings and express psychological issues. Create a safe, comforting place for your child by planning family nights and showing your child he or she has everyone’s support.
  • Look for signs of mental health problems after a shooting, such as withdrawal or depression. Address them by talking to your child, suggesting professional treatment and letting your child know you are there for him or her.
  • Take care of your psychological health so you can better accommodate your child’s needs. See a therapist or doctor to keep your mental health in check. Set a healthy example for your child to follow.

If you have a child who lives in fear of school shootings, whether or not your child has experienced one, address the anxiety by setting a strong example. Kids often pick up and emulate parental anxieties. Explain to your child that although school shootings seem like they are in the news often, they are actually quite rare.

Try to focus your child’s attention on something productive, such as art projects or sports, to avoid sending energy in an unhealthy direction. You and your child can work together to be proactive about preventing school shootings in your community, such as spreading awareness or forming a group at school. Being proactive can help your child feel like someone is doing something to protect students from future shootings.

Kelley | Uustal has defended the families of children killed and injured at the Parkland school shooting. We can help you get the justice you deserve. If you have been affected by a shooting tragedy, don’t hesitate to contact our injury attorneys at (954) 522-6601.