South Florida School Shooting: Gun Violence and Mental Health Debate

South Florida School Shooting: Gun Violence and Mental Health Debate

Only days after the horrific South Florida school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we must take a hard look at the mental health debate, and why mental health should always have been a priority.

It seems like just yesterday I wrote about last year’s tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas and emphasizing how critical it is that mental health support and awareness be a serious and key focus of this conversation. The school where this tragedy took place is a mere 37 miles from where I sit and write this today. I lived within a 20-minute drive of the building for over 3 years. Now, with only a month and 15 days into 2018, we already up to 19 similar acts of terrible violence.

On Wednesday, February 14, Nikolas Cruz entered the high school in Parkland, Florida with an AR-15 rifle and took the lives of 17 people, wounding over a dozen others. This is America’s deadliest school attack in 5 years, perpetrated by a lone 19-year-old gunman with a reputation for disturbing behavior.

Yesterday, President Donald Trump included in his statement about the South Florida school shooting that there were “so many signs” the suspected shooter was “mentally disturbed.” But should mental health be our own focus?

It is extremely difficult to find answers to this complex problem. So what action should we take to change?

The Mental Chaos of Nikolas Cruz

Authorities have confirmed that Cruz was previously expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for disciplinary issues. Reports from the school indicate Cruz as a potential threat who demonstrated a fixation on guns. This obsession can be seen on full display through the photos suggested to be pulled from Cruz’s social media accounts.

Reports said that teachers, classmates and even strangers were concerned about Cruz. One teacher apparently reported that administrators sent an email last year saying that Cruz was not allowed to carry a backpack on campus. Cruz’s adoptive father died a few years ago, and his adoptive mother, who was one of the only people the teen was ever close with, died around Thanksgiving. The orphaned 19-year-old had been living at a friend’s house, with some suggesting he was showing signs of depression. Some former friends have even said they cut ties with him after saying he liked to shoot animals. Classmates claim he used to sell knives out of a lunchbox in the school and even threatened students with violence.

Cruz had been suspended more than once before being expelled, for fighting and having bullets found in his backpack. While he had no criminal history prior to this appalling act of violence, he lived a troubling and chaotic life.

What was being done?

Failing to Catch Red Flags

While it is unfair to say there were no actions taken, those actions failed to put a stop to this tragedy. The Washington Post reports that Cruz had been getting treatment at a mental health clinic, but had stopped after less than a year. Some are insisting that not enough was done to try and address the many obvious issues shown in Cruz’s past. Howard Finkelstein, the chief public defender in Broward County, states,

“Every red flag was there and nobody did anything. When we let one of our children fall off grid, when they are screaming for help in every way, do we have the right to kill them when we could have stopped it?”

Even the FBI admits to receiving a warning about this individual and failing to act. With so many indications that Cruz was a threatening, violent and unstable individual it is deeply troubling that not only did he slip through the cracks of any efforts to curb mental health-related issues, but he was able to obtain a variety of weapons. Despite the many red flags, Cruz’s background wouldn’t disqualify him from purchasing the rifle he used in the shooting.

The Mental Health VS Gun Rights Debate

The biggest debate we see after each one of these terrible atrocities is that familiar blame game;  Is it a ‘guns’ issue or a ‘mental health’ issue? Without picking a side, I’ll try to acknowledge a lot of the concerns. For example, there is an enormous amount of data showing that the rates of mental health disorders in the last few decades has increased at astonishing rates. Every year the mental health of our nation is dwindling. So is this the answer to the riddle? Some seem to think so. Others- not so much.

The current federal law already denies the sale of firearms to anyone who is considered “adjudicated as a mental defective” by a lawful authority or involuntarily committed to a mental institution. It also allows for states to create stricter restrictions. Some states have taken advantage of this and enacted legal channels for stripping firearms away from gun owners flagged as potential threats. However, some do not think this is enough. Others have even gone as far as directly linking mental health to gun rights.

  • In Hawaii, a person diagnosed with a mental disorder may not own a gun without clearance from a doctor.
  • California firearm owners can be disqualified from gun possession for five years if involuntarily confined to psychiatric care for 72 hours and deemed by medical professionals to be dangerous to themselves or others.

However, legal experts also warn that it isn’t as simple as identifying people with mental disorders. According to Fredrick Vars, a law professor at the University of Alabama,

“By and large, the people who engage in these horrific events don’t have obvious major psychiatric issues,”

Dr. Rozel, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. He states that these broad restrictions based on a psychiatric diagnosis risk depriving hundreds of thousands of law-abiding people of their gun rights. Rozel goes on to say,

“Fundamentally, that’s the problem with focusing on the mental-health issue.”

According to a study by the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education in 2004, conducted after the attack at Columbine High School, surveyed “targeted school violence”:

  • Only 1/3 of perpetrators had ever received a mental-health evaluation
  • Fewer than 20% of that 1/3 had been diagnosed with mental health or behavior disorder before the attack

The President of the American Psychological Association (APA) Jessica Henderson Daniel does not agree with automatically assigning the label of mental illness to school shooters. She and other experts believe such rhetoric oversimplifies the complex problem of mass violence while also stereotyping those who struggle with mental health disorders.

“Framing the conversation about gun violence in the context of mental illness does a disservice both to the victims of violence and unfairly stigmatizes the many others with mental illness.”

A senior policy adviser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness said in an interview that invoking mental illness in the gun-control debate is often more political than helpful to those who actually struggle with mental health issues. Many see it as a means to draw attention away from any discussion on gun control. So is it really that far-fetched to even consider an honest and thorough examination of how we might improve policies surrounding access to guns?

After all, American has more mass shootings than any other developed nation, and not even by a little. Studies indicate that the rate at which public mass shootings occur tripled since 2011.

From 1982 up to 2011, a mass shooting occurred roughly once every 200 days.

Then, between 2011 and 2014 that rate has accelerated to at least one mass shooting every 64 days in the United States.

Realistically, it is fair to question the idea that this is simply a mental health issue. It may be a piece of the problem. Yet there is so much more that needs to be addressed in order to work toward a future without this kind of senseless violence.

What Can Be Done For Mental Health?

The sad thing is, we should never have waited for any acts of violence to make mental health a priority. A wide spectrum of issues, including depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder are all very serious and very damaging conditions. Countless Americans still struggle and don’t even know it, or don’t have access to care.

Many argue that the way lawmakers are changing healthcare is making it harder for people to receive mental health services. So with all that has happened, will mental health truly become the priority everyone says it will be? Thursday President Trump promised to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health” while speaking in regards to this tragic incident. But how will these words be followed by action? The president’s current budget actually includes massive cuts to mental health resources, so will these resources be given new priority?

For trauma survivors, there is a whole other element to providing mental health support resources. Horrific incidents like this recent shooting create shockwaves throughout the community and impact the mental health of innumerable others. Students, families and friends, teachers and other officials like law enforcement are all exposed to a new level of unimaginable pain and suffering. We must also make their mental health a priority. But we need to stop waiting until something unspeakable happens before we worry about our nation’s mental health.

Our hearts break for all of our neighbors here in South Florida who are suffering. No matter what we do, be it changing our mental health care or any other policies concerning guns, we MUST DO BETTER!

If you or someone you love is struggling with trauma, depression, or any mental health disorder please seek help. If you struggle with substance use disorder, drugs or alcohol is not the answer. There is real help out there. Please call toll-free now.

  CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

Maintaining Mental Health and Well-Being: by Thomas Beley

Maintaining Mental Health and Well-Being: by Thomas Beley

Maintaining Mental Health and Well-Being

by Thomas G. Beley, Ph.D., LCSW

Executive Director of Palm Healthcare Company

     We hear a lot about the importance of mental health.  However, exactly what is mental health. If one looks at the research literature there is not very much written about what constitutes mental health.  Often times, by default, mental health has been referred to or alluded to as the absence of a mental illness.  To complicate the situation further, the literature seems to be overly ripe with how to treat various mental disorders as well as how to reduce the specific symptoms a person may be experiencing. Unfortunately, our society has become overly preoccupied with treatment focusing on the reduction of a person’s symptoms as an indicator of a mentally healthy person. Although treatment and symptom reduction are important facets of a person’s mental health, neither treatment nor symptom reduction guarantees a sense of well-being.

In examining the various disorders as outlined in the DSM IV and the plethora of research that has been conducted on how to treat these disorders, there appears to be a common thread that seems to exist between all of these disorders and conditions.  The common thread appears to be an on-going interrelationship between the biological or neuro-chemical make-up of a person;  the existing stress factors that may be presented in a person’s life; and the actually coping skills or mechanisms that a person uses as a way of dealing with everyday life. Furthermore, it appears that all three of these influences have the ability to impact the other for the better or for the worse. This article will examine these various influences on a person’s mental health and how these influences are involved in maintaining a person’s sense of mental health and well-being.

Stress

     Stress is a constant in everyone’s life.  Hans Selye, the father of the stress response, defined stress as “any change.”  So the fact of the matter is that stress is a constant in one’s life.  In essence, the moment a person opens their eyes in the morning, that’s stress.  The moment that same person gets out of bed, that’s more stress.  And, the moment that person jumps into the shower, even yet more stress.  In most instances, our bodies are able to handle this stress much of which is attributed to a person’s balanced neurobiology and neurotransmission.

Much of this can be explained through the “fight or flight response” of a person. This mind-body connection, which has been a part of human evolution, has worked the same way over hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years, the same way. Any time a person’s brain, either conscious or unconscious, senses any type of danger whether real or not, there are a whole host of stress hormones that are being released into the body (neurotransmission) gearing the person’s body up to do one of two things, to run away from that danger or to fight that danger.  In either scenario, the body has to be an efficient machine.  Although a person doesn’t necessarily have to hunt for their food any longer per se or run away from man-eating animals, a person is still faced with the everyday modern dangers of life such as unemployment, finances, marital problems, parenting, etc. The list is endless. The important point, here, is that regardless of what that perceived danger, the mind, and body via neurotransmission, kicks into action.

A problem that arises, however, is that once the mind and body have turned it up a notch to deal with the stress, it takes the body a longer time to calm down.  The mind or more specifically the neocortex (the thinking part of the brain) is able to easily dismiss stress and false alarms of stress in a relatively short manner.  A person can become instantly alarmed at the prospect of their electric being shut off from a notice received in the mail, however, instantly “feeling” a sense of relief realizing that the notice is not meant for them but for the neighbor.  Although the mind has dismissed the danger, the stress hormones have already been released to key parts of the person’s body.  Studies have shown that these stress hormones or the signaling of the mind to the body to calm down can take anywhere between six hours to seventy-two hours for the body to receive the signal of no danger.  So what can actually happen is that a person can be walking around “feeling good” and the least little thing can happen, the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, that can send a person into a stressed or panic state.

    There are three key points that need to be remembered about stress.

The first key point is that stress is a constant in anyone’s life by virtue of the constant change a person is going through from the moment they wake up in the morning to the time they go to bed at night.  All too often a person thinks of stress as “nothing bad has happened to me lately.”  It is irrelevant to ask the question whether a person is stressed, it is more appropriate to think in terms of whether that person’s neurobiology is handling that stress in an appropriate manner.

    Secondly, the body doesn’t really know the difference between “good stress” and “bad stress.”  It may be more relevant for a person to think in terms of how much and to what extent has that person experienced change during the course of the week or the month regardless of whether that change has been “good” or “bad.” The more change the person has experienced, the more stress that has been absorbed into the body.

And, finally, the third key point is that the body is a very slow responder.  It takes the body a much longer time to calm down than the cognitive processes that are occurring in the brain.  A person needs to be mindful that just because they are “feeling relaxed” doesn’t necessarily mean that their body is relaxed.

It is not always feasible to assume that lowering the stressful situations in one’s life is the answer since many people may be unable to avoid a stressful lifestyle.  Firefighters, police officers, emergency room medical staff, are all faced with potential chronic conditions of stress.  It is not fair to say these individuals will be excluded from feeling a sense of well-being because they are in constant stressful situations.  It is important for a person to be aware of trying to lower stress in their life where they can, but for those individuals who are in situations where stress is a constant, it will be more important for that person to develop the necessary coping skills to deal with stress such as exercise, nutrition, yoga, or meditation.

Neurobiology

     Research in the neurosciences in recent years has continued to shed new light on a person’s brain chemistry and how neurotransmission impacts a person’s sense of well being as well as behavior.  There have been numerous studies conducted on certain neurotransmitters of well being such as serotonin, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), dopamine, and others to suggest the necessity of these neurotransmitters for the person to function at an optimal level.  This is where the explosion of new prescription drugs has come on to the market to solve the ills of the world.  Needless to say, pharmaceutical companies have long since been proponents of this neurobiological research due to the ability to develop newer and more efficient drugs to attempt to balance a person’s neurochemistry.  An important aspect that has evolved over the years, however, is the recognition of, not only the importance of a person’s neurobiological chemistry to be in balance for a sense of well-being, but also the fact that a person’s biochemical makeup can be extremely delicate and subject to a whole host of outside influences such as stress, medical conditions, nutrition, and behavior that can throw a person’s neurochemistry off creating a variety of symptoms.  As a result, there continues to be a growing movement toward alternative methods of treatment to address brain chemistry issues such as acupuncture, nutrition, or chiropractic intervention to intervene and/or to enhance a person’s brain chemistry.

Regardless of whether you are a proponent of Prozac or a devotee to acupuncture, the important point to emphasize is that a person’s neurochemistry plays an important role in a person’s sense of well-being and contentment. Furthermore, the imbalance of neurotransmission in the brain can interfere with that person’s overall level of functioning and well-being.

Coping

    Coping with everyday life situations is another area which is an important influence on a person’s ability to achieve a sense of well-being.  A person needs to feel a sense of satisfaction about how they handle given situations that confront them whether if it is with themselves or with others.  However, in order to do this effectively, a person needs to have a repertoire of coping mechanisms to choose from.  All too often, a person doesn’t develop or change the necessary coping skills needed to deal with life situations.  An interesting point to make, here, is that the human species, which is supposed to be at the top of the so-called food chain of life, is the only species that will continue to do the exact same behaviors to problem solve a situation despite the fact that these problem-solving behaviors may have repeatedly failed in the past.  For a variety of reasons, it appears that change is often difficult for a person to make. In order to effectively cope with a situation, it is of vital importance for a person to maintain a degree of flexibility, adaptation, and a willingness to change regarding any given situation.

In a sense, a person’s self-esteem can be viewed as being borne in a series of “failures.”  Once a person makes a decision to do something, it is usually followed by a series of behaviors or actions. Often times these initial behaviors and actions are not going to be a success since doing something for the first time often leads to a number of miscues or possiblefailures.” However, if a person is willing to persist at following through with these behaviors and actions or be willing to try something different in an attempt to reach their goal, there is a greater likelihood the person will develop a sense of competence in that area. Once that person achieves that level of competence, a person’s self-esteem will increase.  Once a person’s self-esteem has increased, the easier it becomes for that person to make decisions and take action in other areas of life and the cycle begins all over again.

The important part of coping is that both coping mechanisms and skills need to be constantly reviewed and refined by a person.  There is no guarantee that a particular coping skill or mechanism is going to work in all situations.  As a person begins to adapt to the various complexities of life, the greater the need for a more complete range of coping skills to maintain that sense of well-being.

The Systemic Relationship of Neurobiology, Stress, and Coping

    In considering these various influences on a person’s mental health and well-being, it is vital to understand the interrelationship that exists between them.  One must comprehend that all three of these influences are constantly impacting one’s functioning and a person cannot focus on one of these areas without taking into consideration the ramifications it will have on the other areas.  There is a cyclical force that each area has on the other areas and vice versa.  For instance, if a person is experiencing an inordinate amount of stress, whether it is “good stress” or “bad stress,” the neurochemistry of the brain is going to be impacted.  If the neurochemistry of the brain is affected, there is a greater likelihood that this imbalance is going to affect the neurotransmission which can result in symptomatic behaviors such as panic, anxiety, depression, or other symptomatic behavior.  As a result of the symptomatic behavior the person may be experiencing, the person’s coping mechanism and problem-solving abilities are probably going to be compromised at least to some degree.  If the person is unable to cope with a given situation in an effective manner, there is the potential of the stress level increasing again. As a result, there is a cyclical process of impact.

Balance and Well-Being

    It appears that a key factor for a person maintaining mental health and a sense of well-being is the ability to monitor and balance the areas of neurobiology, stress, and coping.  The challenge, however, that confronts a person is the ability to maintain this balance on an on-going basis.  One of the difficulties stems from the fact that it is not always clear as to what a person needs to attend to at any given time.  For instance, let’s say that a person’s depression may simply be stemming from their genetic make-up.  If this is the case, it would probably be more prudent for that person to be prescribed the appropriate anti-depressant medication to correct the neurobiological issue as opposed to getting involved in therapy or attempting to reduce stress.  Although the latter two methods can be extremely effective in the long run, the more effective and efficient intervention may be from a pharmacological approach.

On the other hand, let’s say a person is depressed as a result of a great deal of existing stress that is occurring in their life, let’s say from being fired from their job,  or the person has limited coping skills to deal with real-life traumas like the death of a loved one.  In this scenario, a pharmacological intervention may be of little value, since the depression may be more a product of “normal” life situations that would be better addressed through support and the development of better and more appropriate coping skills for that given situation.  In these situations, yoga, meditation, and exercise may be extremely efficient in addressing stressful situations whereas psychotherapy can be effective in developing better coping skills.  In many instances, it is not necessarily the fact that a person’s anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication is not working, the fact of the matter is that the person’s life is still a mess and they need to begin to put it in order.  Unless the person is able to address these matters, the likelihood of a person responding effectively to a pharmacological intervention is going to be minimal.It is safe to say that one’s mental health and sense of well-being is not a given in anyone’s life.  Just because a person has a positive outlook on life, doesn’t mean that their genetic make-up couldn’t play a factor in that person’s level of functioning.  Or, the person who has savvy coping skills in dealing with incredible amounts of stress, doesn’t mean that the accumulative effects of those stressors will not take a physiological toll on that person via heart disease or cancer.

Maintaining mental health and well-being needs to be worked at on an on-going basis, not too different than an athlete needs to train to maintain peak performance.  In the arena of mental health and well-being, a person needs to monitor and train how they are performing in the areas of neurobiology, stress reduction, and the development of more effective and positive coping skills.  The ability of a person to attend to these areas through the use of yoga, nutrition, exercise, diet, meditation, stress reduction techniques, psychotherapy, hypnosis, just to name a few approaches, the greater likelihood the person will maintain that sense of well-being.  A question that a person needs to ask themselves is what is it they are doing to ensure the balance of these three key areas of their life.

For over 25 year, Thomas G. Beley, PhD, LCSW has worked in the field of addictions and mental health. Over these two-and-a-half decades of helping people who struggle with mental health and substance use disorders, he has proven to be an expert clinician and innovative and compassionate leader. Palm Healthcare Company is proud to have an executive team with experience and incredible commitment to helping others. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.

 CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

The Veteran Mental Health Problem We Need to be Talking About

The Veteran Mental Health Problem We Need to be Talking About

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

When we talk about fighting the addiction problem in America and better understanding substance use disorder, we have to acknowledge those who are at a specific risk for suffering from substance use. Far too many American soldiers come home only to fight another devastating, heartbreaking battle.

With addiction being considered a mental health issue, it should be clear the contribution of overall mental health makes to causing substance use disorder (SUD) in many cases. Depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are all mental health issues that often associated with addiction.

Some of those susceptible to mental health disorders and substance abuse are those who fight for the safety and freedom of our country; our Veterans. So we need to acknowledge the mental health issues that the men and women who sacrifice everything for this nation are suffering through. We need to talk about how to best understand these conditions, and how to best treat those in need.

Veteran Mental Health Disorder Statistics

According to the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research:

  • 20% of Veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from either major depression or PTSD

  • 5% of Veterans in these two categories have suffered a traumatic brain injury

According to the U.S. Department of Federal Affairs:

  • More than 2 out of 10 veterans with PTSD also suffer from SUD

  • In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 1 in 10 returning soldiers seen in VA have a problem with alcohol or other drugs.

  • Almost 1 out of every 3 Veterans seeking treatment for SUD also has PTSD.

  • War Veterans with PTSD and alcohol problems tend to be binge drinkers.

  • Among all U.S. adult deaths from suicide, 18% (7,403) were identified as Veterans of U.S. military service

Probably one of the most troubling statistics comes from a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) which tragically revealed:

Only 50% of returning vets who need veteran mental health treatment will receive these services.

That is an extremely troubling number. It says a lot about how Veterans are struggling to get the help they need when you realize that only around half of them ever get it.

Veterans and Substance Abuse

One of the hardest issues to address when examining the veteran mental health issue is substance abuse and SUD. It is also one of the most important aspects of Veteran mental health treatment that need to be acknowledged.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that substance abuse among veterans is strongly connected to their experiences in combat and how they struggle to cope with these traumas. Various NIDA studies indicate that:

  • 25% of Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan showed signs of SUD

  • In 2008, active duty and veteran military personnel abused prescription drugs at a rate that was more than twice the rate for the civilian population

  • In 2009, the VA estimated that around 13,000 vets from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from alcohol dependence syndrome and require veteran mental health treatment for this problem.

PTSD and SUD

A lot of people, even those who are not Veterans but have experienced great trauma, use substances to self-medicate and deal with PTSD. Even for those who have never had an issue with substances or may never have even used substances, PTSD increases the risk an individual can develop a drinking or drug problem or SUD.

To make matters worse, PTSD and SUD can likely lead to other problems in life, including health. These Veteran mental health issues can often be associated with:

Ultimately, using drugs or alcohol in combination with PTSD might seem to make things easier, but will actually make them a lot worse. It creates a vicious cycle of numbing and re-traumatizing.

Better Treatment for Veteran Mental Health and Addiction

Many advocates for Veteran services, including the National Veterans Foundation (NVF), believe:

  • More funding needs to be allocated for Veteran mental health care services so that every veteran has easy access to this type of care.
  • Excessive wait times at local VA facilities need to be addressed in order to grant people the access they need to these services.

The NVF website states:

“We can no longer look the other way or continue to underfund the mental health care system that our veterans use.”

This should absolutely be a priority. Strengthening the system that provides mental health care not just to citizens who are suffering, but to our vets who have given so much and desperately need help, is crucial to saving lives from substance use disorder.

Not only does Palm Healthcare Company understand the importance of providing quality addiction recovery treatment, but we also know how important dual diagnosis treatment is for those who suffer from serious mental health conditions like PTSD or major depression along with addiction. Better treatment means addressing both conditions simultaneously, to help the individual heal holistically.

Palm Healthcare Company also knows how important it is to help those first responders and Veterans that put their lives on the line every day. That is why we are a proud sponsor of the Harrigan Foundation’s Annual Run to the Rescue 5K to raise money for the treatment of first responders and veterans.

To find out more about this event, visit the link here:

Harrigan Foundation’s Annual RUN TO THE RESCUE 5K

Mental health care and addiction treatment for vets is an important resource that can save lives and our veterans put their lives back together after experiencing trauma and hardship that causes PTSD and the devastation of substance abuse. If you or a loved one is struggling, you don’t have to fight alone. Please call toll-free now.

 CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

After Las Vegas Shooting: PTSD and Mental Health Must be Priority

After Las Vegas Shooting: PTSD and Mental Health Must be Priority

Just this past Sunday the nation saw one of the deadliest shootings in modern American history in Las Vegas. This immense and indescribable tragedy shocked the world as news reports and live footage filled the airwaves after a gunman opened fire with high-powered rifles at an outdoor music festival. At this point there are at least 58 dead and over 520 wounded, making it the deadliest mass shooting in recent history.

The heartbreak and weight of this tragedy truly cannot be put into words. The unimaginable loss is without parallel. Beyond those who lost their lives in such a senseless act of violence, the impacts this event has had on countless friends, families and loved ones are unfathomable.

In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, mental health must be a priority. How we address and protect the psychological well-being of every American must be a very serious part of the conversation. We have to take a close look at how we are facing mental health, and support those who have been traumatized in the wake of such horrific events.

PTSD of Mass Shootings

The risks of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is extremely elevated in situations like this. Research on mass shootings is not extensive but is sufficient enough to allow for some preliminary conclusions. One study examined 15 mass shooting events to review consequences of the incidents upon survivors. From these studies conclusion, researchers stated:

  • Prevalence of post-disaster diagnoses (predominantly PTSD) in these studies ranged from 10% to 36%
  • Much higher percentages reported sub-threshold PTSD
  • Very few participants reported no symptoms

One 1994 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry shows that in the acute post-disaster period:

  • 20% of the men met criteria for PTSD after a mass shooting
  • 36% of the women met criteria for PTSD

The same study looked at those with post-disaster PTSD who also met criteria for another post-disaster psychiatric diagnosis, especially major depression. They found:

  • One-half of the women met the criteria
  • One-fourth of the men met the criteria

Experts say most people will recover fully from post-disaster PTSD within 6 to 16 months, but most still emphasize the importance of support.

Not only can those present at the tragedy be affected directly, but also those not present but connected to the location or individuals present can be affected vicariously. You don’t have to experience something so horrifying first-hand to suffer a severe impact. An attack like this can have deep emotional effects on those who witness the event, or even for those all over the world following the story.

Understanding PTSD

Part of dealing with the residual effects of tragic events and disasters is to understand how conditions like PTSD can impact people. PTSD can result in emotional, physical and even cognitive issues that some people may not know how to recognize or cope with.

Emotional Effects of PTSD Include

  • Shock
  • Terror
  • Irritability
  • Blame
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Grief or sadness
  • Emotional numbing
  • Helplessness
  • Loss of pleasure derived from familiar activities
  • Difficulty feeling happy
  • Difficulty experiencing loving feelings

Physical Effects of PTSD Include

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Startle response
  • Cardiovascular strain
  • Increased physical pain
  • Reduced immune response
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased libido

Cognitive Effects of PTSD Include

  • Decreased concentration
  • Confusion
  • Impaired decision making
  • Disbelief
  • Dissociation
  • Nightmares
  • Impaired Memory
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Reduced self-efficacy
  • Self-blame
  • Intrusive thoughts/memories
  • Anxiety

All of these things can cause other more personal issues. Some will experience difficulty with intimacy or social relationships. Isolation and alienation can develop at work, at school or even at home.

According to PTSD United, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support and resources for those suffering from PTSD:

  • 70% of adults (approximately 223.4 million people) in the US have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives.
  • Up to 20% of these people go on to develop PTSD.
  • Approximately 44.7 million people today either have struggled or are struggling with PTSD.

With PTSD, a lot of people actually turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. Some will rely on substances as a form of relief when PTSD brings feelings of isolation or depression. However, as people try to numb or distract themselves from these feelings, they tend to create more problems through substance use.

Often times, the substances only fuel feelings of isolation, depression or anxiety.

Make Mental Health a Priority

This week, October 1 through October 7, is Mental Illness Awareness Week. There is no time like the present to discuss the current state of mental health across the country. Now is always the time to advocate for better support, services, and acceptance when discussing mental illness and mental health in America.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH):

  • 9% of all U.S. adults (43.4 million)qualified as having mental health issues in 2015
  • Approximately 20-21% of incarcerated Americans have a “recent history” of mental health issues
  • 70% of young people caught up in the juvenile justice system have at least one mental health issue
  • 46% of people living in homeless shelters live with severe mental health issues and/or substance use disorders (SUDs)

In the aftermath of such profound tragedy like the recent shooting in Las Vegas, or even natural disasters like recently with Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Maria, there should be a very direct conversation about mental health. We should also work diligently to ensure that while the world grapples with opioid addiction and drug abuse, that more people don’t turn to self-medicating to fight feelings of loss, terror or alienation.

For all survivors of recent tragedies, or those affected indirectly, there are ways to take care of yourself and monitor your own mental state. Make your own mental health a priority. Protect yourself from destructive behaviors, and reach out for help in the wake of such emotionally compromising events as what happened in Las Vegas.

The national crisis hotline also offers confidential and free services 24/7/365 Call (775) 784-8090 or text ANSWER to 839-863

Our hearts and prayers go out to all those touched by this tragedy.

If you or someone you love is struggling with trauma, don’t let substance abuse make it all even worse. Drugs or alcohol are not the answer. There is real help out there. Please call toll-free now.

 CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

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