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.
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
- Grief or sadness
- Emotional numbing
- Loss of pleasure derived from familiar activities
- Difficulty feeling happy
- Difficulty experiencing loving feelings
Physical Effects of PTSD Include
- Startle response
- Cardiovascular strain
- Increased physical pain
- Reduced immune response
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased libido
Cognitive Effects of PTSD Include
- Decreased concentration
- Impaired decision making
- Impaired Memory
- Decreased self-esteem
- Reduced self-efficacy
- Intrusive thoughts/memories
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