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Coping with Mass Shootings

Navy Officer attending a candlelight vigil

Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael P Semales

It is important to remember that in any city or town, mass shootings are rare, even if they are highly visible occurrences that receive national attention. Most people will never experience one directly. However, when they do happen they are shocking and can be difficult to cope with. This is because they feel random and happen in places you consider safe like schools, offices, malls, movie theaters, restaurants—even military installations.

If you are affected by a mass shooting you may experience:

  • Fear or anxiety
  • Shock/terror
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness
  • Feelings of guilt or self-blame
  • Feelings of hopelessness/helplessness
  • Nightmares and trouble sleeping
  • Hypervigilance
  • Intrusive thoughts/memories
  • Emotional numbing
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Difficulties with relationships

It is important to keep in mind that all of these “symptoms” are completely normal and even expected in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting. While most resolve over the first few days, some may linger for weeks or months. This is also normal. However, many people find relief and comfort in talking about their thoughts and feelings related to these types of events. Thus, it is perfectly reasonable to seek help from friends, family, spiritual advisors or mental health professionals. People who talk about traumatic events have better outcomes.

Secondary Trauma

Even if you weren’t physically present, you may experience stress following a mass shooting. This is especially true if you have been in a similar situation before, or someone you care about was close to or affected by the shooting. Exposure to details via the news or social media may also cause distress. This is called secondary trauma.

You may think that if a shooting happened at one school or office, it could just as easily happen at another where you, your friends or family spend time. Don’t downplay your feelings, but do limit disturbing television and social media exposure following traumatic events. You should also talk to others about your concerns.

Supporting Your Health

Many factors can influence your reaction to a traumatic event. In the case of a mass shooting, how close were you? Were you or someone you know injured? Have you experienced a traumatic even already in your life? Do you have a lot of other stressors like work or family to deal with?

The following are important ways to support your health and manage any ongoing concerns:

Helping Children Cope

Caring for children after a mass shooting, whether they are directly involved or exposed to second-hand accounts, takes special consideration. These may depend on their age. A very young child in kindergarten, for example, may struggle with the sense that they did something to cause a bad event. Older teenagers may engage in risky behaviors like substance misuse. Fortunately, there are resources to help you and your child cope with a traumatic event together.

Reaching out is a sign of strength. If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants. Call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. Or, visit our “Seek Help, Find Care” page to see a list of key psychological health resources.

Additional Resources:

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