Everything You Need To Know About Mass Shootings and What You May Experience Afterward
With a steady increase in mass shootings and violence in the United States, more and more people are left as primary or secondary victims to these heinous crimes.
Shootings aren’t anything new to the US, sadly. The rate at which they’re occurring has drastically increased over the years leaving a gaping hole in resources and education for those struggling in the aftermath.
What exactly is “normal” to feel in the days, weeks, and months after being witness to a shooting event?
Is the way we cope with this trauma different for kids vs. adults?
Let’s talk about it.
What You Need To Know About The Increase In Mass Shootings:
Why is there such a spike in mass shootings all of the sudden?
Is there a common underlying problem, or is the media just choosing to cover more of these stories than ever before?
Is it because we all have the latest news at our fingertips – making these tragic stories more accessible?
The term mass shooting refers to any situation in which a gunman shoots 4 or more strangers in a sudden attack. While the attack is unexpected the perpetrator may have been planning their crime for months or years before the incident.
In addition, in order for a shooting to be considered a ‘mass shooting’ it must occur in any public space such as a school, shopping mall, store, or workplace. While there may be a target of the attack (such as an employee targeting his boss) others are wounded or killed in the process.
So, why such an increase?
There hasn’t been a single week in 2022 without some instance of a mass shooting. (look at the data on school shootings in 2022)
It’s a heartbreaking statistic that shows that each year our community is left with literally hundreds of survivors and witnesses. These people then have to face the mental, emotional, and physical trauma left behind.
Many mass shooters are incorrectly labeled as “mentally unstable individuals” who suddenly snap at the drop of the hat. But taking a deeper look shows many of these crimes are either
- Hate crimes (such as the shooting that occurred at Pulse, a gay bar in Orlando, Florida) or are
- Directed by some agenda and a desire to “send a message” (such as those perpetrated by various extremist groups)
Shooters are more likely to be vengeful, angry individuals who are seeking revenge on society for their perceived wrongdoings done against them.
What’s ‘Normal’ To Go Through Emotionally After a Shooting?
While mass shootings should never be considered a ‘normal’ event in society, there are some ‘normal’ emotions and feelings you may be working through after being trapped in one of these terrifying situations.
One thing we do know, however, is that everyone processes the aftermath of a shooting differently. People may experience a wide range of emotions that come and go like tidal waves, while others may take much longer to overcome the initial denial of their experience.
No matter what you feel, remember that it’s all subjective to your own personal experience. There is no right or wrong way to handle the aftermath of a shooting.
Feelings you may experience after a shooting include, but are not limited to:
While people are incredibly strong and most often bounce back after difficult times, shootings are events that can greatly alter your entire sense of safety and belonging.
For example, some people struggle with feelings of survivors’ guilt or even just to sleep, eat or perform other daily activities. Some no longer feel safe in large or public places. Others find it hard to be around people and begin to pull back and disconnect from their community.
How Are Children Handling Life After School Shootings?
Children are some of the most resilient creatures on Earth. Have you ever seen a child completely face plant into the ground and then get up and keep on running?
However, the traumatic events of a school shooting are likely to disrupt all of their ‘normal’ emotional and behavioral tendencies.
Emotions and behaviors they may experience:
- Trouble sleeping
- ‘Acting out’
- Anxiety or paranoia
- Being afraid to sleep alone
It’s likely that after a shooting children are faced with navigating complex emotions they may not fully understand. Trauma is difficult enough without loss of lives. Grief for children amidst the chaos only makes things more difficult. It’s important as caregivers to nurture these wounds and support them in whatever way possible. Keep home a safe space to talk to them about what they’re experiencing in the aftermath of a shooting. While forcing or pressuring them to talk about what they have gone through isn’t helpful, remind them often that you’re here when they’re ready to talk.
When To Seek Help After a Shooting:
There are 2 major interventions needed after a traumatic event like this.
Critical Incident Stress Debriefing / Management (CISD / CISM)
The first should ideally happen within a couple of hours and that is a special type of intervention/debriefing called Critical Incident Stress Management. These CISM professionals are highly trained it what to do right after such event to help the victims and first responders begin to process and deal with the emotional aftermath of the traumatic event.
A Professional Who Specializes in Traumatic Events
The second is to work with a professional psychotherapist who specializes in helping people who have been through a traumatic event, not just one who works with anxiety or PTSD. The best of these are likely also trained in CISM and have many years of experience as well.
While some effects of a shooting may dissolve after about 4 to 6 weeks, in some instances you may be suffering from more long-term symptoms, otherwise known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The acute stress that can follow after an incident of gun violence is nothing to mess around with. Be mindful of your emotions and behaviors in the months following a shooting. It’s always best to seek help if you:
- Experience frequent flashbacks or nightmares
- Have trouble concentrating on everyday tasks
- Are having difficulties completing work
- Are experiencing intrusive thoughts related to the incident
- Become easily triggered by things in the environment
- Feel as though you’re in danger whenever in social settings
- Are feeling like you’re constantly on edge or irritable
- Have a hard time falling or staying asleep
PTSD can quickly spiral into self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, self harm, and other harmful methods aimed at easing your distressing symptoms. If you feel as though you’re not returning back to yourself after a few weeks or months have gone by there are many mental health professionals trained and ready to assist you in overcoming this trauma.
Remember, while shootings are tragically becoming more common they’re still rare. Focus on your village; your support systems such as close friends or family. While they may not be able to fully understand what you’re going through, you don’t have to walk this journey alone. And if you are live in an area that has suffered such a tragedy – lean in and support your neighbors however you can.
Cultivate Community – we heal together.