The mental health of gunshot victims and survivors is profoundly affected by the trauma they experience. Beyond physical injuries, the constant fear of potential shootings creates anxiety and depression among individuals. Recurrent shootings can trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), leading to emotional instability in gun violence survivors.
Studies reveal that countries with poor firearm regulation like the USA have high incidences of PTSD in gun violence survivors. Reportedly, people who are recovering from head injuries caused by gunshot wounds or those with harrowing experiences of school shootings are at an all-time high risk of long-term PTSD.
In fact, PTSD in child or adolescent gun violence survivors assumes the same severity as those of military veterans or victims of disasters like earthquakes, war, invasion, etc.
PTSD In Adolescent Gun Violence Survivors
Living with the constant fear of a potential shooting is an unsettling experience. Students, whether in school, college, or university, must grapple with the idea that their place of learning, supposed to be a safe haven, could be the next target.
This realization instills a pervasive vulnerability and anxiety among students. The knowledge that their lives could be at risk at any moment affects their overall well-being, leading to a decline in happiness and a loss of the sense of security they once had in educational institutions.
Recurrent shootings have a significant impact on the mental health of young people, often resulting in the development of PTSD symptoms. Survivors of any form of gun violence may experience a reactivation of trauma each time they hear about a new shooting.
The constant exposure to news of shootings creates a “kindling effect,” where each new incident adds to the accumulated fear and anxiety. According to Rachel O’Neill, a licensed professional clinical counselor, constantly harboring fear or anxiety surrounding these events can trigger PTSD, characterized by a feeling of being on edge, detachment, avoidance of specific situations, and the emergence of unwelcome traumatic memories.
Media coverage plays a significant role in perpetuating the emotional instability experienced by young people. The 24-hour news cycle bombards individuals with emergency notifications on their phones, social media feeds, and television screens.
The repeated exposure to tragedy, especially when it directly threatens the places where students should feel safe, creates a state of perpetual emotional instability.
Even if students are not consciously thinking about it, the fear of a shooting becomes ingrained in their thoughts and becomes part of their daily experience. They find themselves constantly contemplating how they would respond if such an event were to happen in their school.
Studies also suggest that poor gun laws and the inability to raise voices for protest of advocacy can also exaceberate symptoms of PTSD.
Maddie Lesser, the founder of Westchester Students Demand Action, elaborated in a TeenVogue interview: “It’s not only anxiety about having to go through something so tragic as a school shooting, [or] a mass shooting … [It’s] also anxiety about getting your voice across, getting your thoughts understood and heard, and making sure that what you’re doing isn’t for nothing.”
Long-Term Consequences Of Gun Violence PTSD
Gun violence-induced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have long-term consequences on the individuals affected. The persistent trauma and fear associated with experiencing or witnessing gun violence can lead to a range of psychological and emotional challenges.
Individuals with gun violence-related PTSD may continue to experience symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, and emotional detachment long after the initial traumatic event. These symptoms can disrupt daily life, strain relationships, and hinder overall well-being.
Gaps In PTSD Treatment In Gun Violence Survivors
There are significant gaps in PTSD treatment for gun violence survivors that need to be addressed. Despite the prevalence of PTSD among this population, access to specialized trauma-focused therapy and mental health services remains limited. Many survivors, particularly those from marginalized communities, face barriers such as financial constraints, lack of insurance coverage, and limited availability of qualified professionals.
Additionally, the unique nature of gun violence-related trauma requires tailored interventions that specifically address the complexities and nuances of these experiences. This PTSD Awareness Month, closing the gaps in PTSD treatment for gun violence survivors is very crucial.
It may require increased funding for mental health services, improved accessibility to specialized care, and the development of comprehensive trauma-informed programs that prioritize the unique needs of this vulnerable population in the long run.