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Mass shootings: A widening impact

Posted on 12-10-15 in Mental Health

Mass shootings: A widening impact

There have been 1,052 mass shootings in a stretch of 1,066 days. Media propagates sensational images as Americans absorb the horror from the safety of their homes. Mass shootings have a wide and lasting effect, even on those who weren’t present.

The psychological consequences of directly experiencing or witnessing a mass shooting are serious. Prevalence of post-disaster diagnoses, predominantly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is noted to range from 10 percent to 36 percent. Very few participants reported no symptoms.

At less extreme levels of exposure, the repercussions of mass shootings extend beyond the primary victims to encompass the community, whether a workplace, neighborhood, school or campus. Community members are resentful toward the media invasion, and they may sense they are being blamed.

Consistent media coverage on any kind of dramatic death or other negative event, such as mass shootings, plane crashes or kidnapping, leaves people with an exaggerated sense of inevitability and increased vulnerability.

Rampage violence seems to lead to repeated cycles of suffering, investigation, allegations and intense debates, adding little to any real progress toward prevention. Mass shootings incite divisive arguments about violence in relation to gun control and mental health. The percentage of Americans who believe that having a gun makes them safer (63 percent) has doubled since 2000.

Research has noted that the news media helps construct social problems by either making claims directly or, more often, by reporting the claims made by others. The news media has had a profound influence on the social construction of mass murder by typifying examples and using some as landmark narratives.

Such frequency, paired with more media visibility, can have two polarizing effects according to Ohio State Medical Center psychologist Dr. Kenneth Yeager: People can become hypersensitive or “numb.” Yeager says 13 percent of people deal with long-term trauma in some form, but those numbers spike for shorter periods, particularly in relation to mass shootings.

Yeager added that a lot of people, directly or indirectly exposed to tragedies like shootings, can move on as they ignore the events as part of a self-defense mechanism. “You say to yourself, this won’t happen to me. This won’t happen to my family until it does,” he said.

Whether people are traumatized or affected by tragic events, Yeager believes an open dialogue is necessary for awareness, even with kids.

What’s probably most discouraging about this dilemma is McGinty and colleagues discovered in 2013 that media coverage of mass shootings by individuals with serious mental illness has significantly increased stigma towards individuals with such symptoms. This has lead to increasing avoidance of individuals with special needs, as they are increasingly perceived as a threat. These negative public attitudes towards mental illness may in turn act as barriers to treatment.

Despite the more global portrayal of the shooters as “mentally ill,” recent research has provided a more specific phenomenology. In 2013, Dutton and colleagues examined writings of several mass shooters and found common negativity regarding social acceptance, obsession with rejection and retribution of social transgressions against them.

As appalling as these events are, the average person is much more likely to be injured or killed by a car crash or slipping in the bathroom. What differentiates such situations is the people’s perception of some sort of control over those kinds of accidents compared to mass shootings.

If you or your loved one is dealing with trauma due to a violent event, it is best to seek help sooner rather than later. Please call Sovereign Health Group at any time to learn more about how we can help heal and improve mental and behavioral health problems.

Written by Sana Ahmed, Sovereign Health Group writer