Mass shootings, gun violence leave traces of PTSD, fear across America
Anxiety and post-traumatic stress have dogged Tia Christiansen, 53, years after a shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas left dozens dead.
Christianen was in a hotel room at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in 2017 when a gunman killed 58 people and injured hundreds. She recalled the sound and intensity of the 1,000-round gunfire she heard from two rooms down from the gunman, who had shot from the window into the crowd.
“Some days it’s the most important thing and it’s so overwhelming that it’s hard for me to get out of bed, and some days, I can’t get anything done,” said Christiansen, who was not injured in the shooting. “Not even something as simple as the food. It’s just too much.”
Every time there is a mass shooting across the country, it increases Christiansen’s fear of being caught in another.
“It brings it all back in a very relatable way,” Christiansen said. “My body hurts. Many of my PTSD symptoms recur 100 times. It makes me feel like all the progress I’ve made could be gone in an instant or a day.”
Research shows that the mental health damage of mass shootings goes beyond survivors and witnesses. Mass shootings are reported to be the most common source of stress among US adults, according to an August 2019 report. survey by the American Psychological Association.
The stress rate of 71% was higher than that of healthcare stress that year which was 69%. And nearly a third of the U.S. population fears that they can’t go out in public without the chance of a mass shooting. survey.
“We did the 2019 survey after the El Paso and Dayton shootings, unfortunately they were too similar to what we’ve seen a few months ago,” said Valie Wright, senior director of change new to health care at the American Psychological Association, told USA TODAY.
So far in 2022, there have been 322 mass shootings in which at least four people were shot or killed as of July 8, according to Gun Violence Archives.
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Patricia Maisch, 73, said her perception of public safety changed forever after she witnessed a 2011 shooting at a grocery store in Tucson, Arizona, where the former Lower Democratic congressman Gabby Giffords and 12 others were injured. Six people died.
Even 11 years after her experience, Maisch said she remains alert and cautious in public, and she searches for escape plans and places to hide in the event of a shooting. .
“Do I hide under a chair, under a chair, behind a desk, if I am so close?” Maisch said, describing her thought process if she were at the airport. “
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The American Psychological Association reports that at least 24% of adults surveyed in 2019 said they have made frequent lifestyle changes due to fear.
Since the Las Vegas shooting five years ago, Christianen said she hasn’t been to a concert, movie theater or any large crowds due to her PTSD. She said her anxiety levels in front of large crowds became so overwhelming that she was shaking and unable to speak.
“I do all I can to avoid putting myself in a position where it feels like being turned around and being in a large gathering, which breaks my heart because it really takes away so much. many opportunities to live a life of complete freedom,” Christiansen said.
Shaundelle Brooks, 52, has also worried about her safety in public since her son was killed four years ago in a shooting at Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee. Her son, Akilah DaSilva, was 23 years old when he was shot and killed along with three others.
“Every crowd, everywhere we go, we keep looking,” says Brooks, who lives in Nashville. “We constantly think this could happen again.”
She said she was worried about her other three children.
“Every time my children walk out the door, every time we go somewhere to go somewhere, I constantly fear this will happen again,” she said.
Brooks founded Akilah DaSilva Foundation in January 2019 to honor her son and campaign for changes. She is also a Mothers Needs Action volunteer with Everytown for Gun Safety, and she says she uses her traumatic experience to campaign against gun violence.
But the constant news of mass shootings affected her grieving process and her ability to cope with what happened.
“You wake up and you think you’re going to have a normal day, and then another mass shooting,” Brooks said. “So that’s not the real way to deal with it.”
How to deal
Based on Everytown on Gun SafetyNine out of 10 gun violence survivors face trauma as a result of the incident, according to a February 2022 report. About two-thirds of shooting survivors have sought health care services. mental health, therapy and support after the shooting, report found.
“Trauma does some crazy things to the brain,” says Tennille Pereira, director of the Vegas Strong Rehabilitation Center, who works with mass shooting victims. “It puts the brain into this state of extreme fear, and so, even though the immediate threat is gone, their brain can often stay in that feeling of extreme fear.”
Pereira, who has provided legal services to Las Vegas victims and their families, said fear is a natural response to trauma suffered throughout a person’s experience.
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When it comes to coping with and alleviating fear, there are many different approaches, but they should focus on resilience and maintaining a healthy state of mind, says Wright of the American Psychological Association. spiritual side.
“Coping behavior really differs from person to person,” says Wright. “So it could be things like meditation, or going for a walk, being in nature.
Wright says it will take more than one person to help combat these fears. Workplaces, schools and universities need to help address this public health crisis, he said.
“We can’t just expect people to take care of themselves the way they are. We need our system to support our emotions,” he said.
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Meanwhile, President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan gun bill on June 25, requiring gun buyers under the age of 21 to go through an investigative phase to check juvenile and mental health records. This is one of the most historic gun control deals in three decades.
Brooks said she would feel safer if lawmakers passed stricter gun control laws that could prevent mass shootings. Her son’s killer is not legally allowed possess any weapon.
“I think that will alleviate some of the fear in survivors and people who have experienced gun violence,” Brooks said.
Until action happens, the best way to respond is to support communities with gun violence victims, says Wright.
“Our responsibility is to act in ways to … support survivors and show them that this is not okay,” Wright said.
“This is not a personal matter,” he added. “This is a bigger problem.”
Everytown for gun safety established a community for millions of Americans affected by gun violence. If you are dealing with gun violence, you can contact Everytown for Gun Safety at 646-324-8250.
The American Mentoring Association listed source of mental health for disasters hereas Tips on how to respond after a shooting here.
Contributing: Ella Lee and Candy Woodall, USA TODAY