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Study investigates the effect of public shootings on community mental health

Posted on 01-11-2017 Posted in Anxiety, Mental Health, Trauma - 0 Comments


Before the recent infamous public shootings at the Fort Lauderdale airport and the Orlando nightclub, Florida already appeared to be leading the nation in mass shootings. Regardless of how and why these attacks occur, they can have a profound impact on the mental health of many, including survivors, witnesses and people hearing about it indirectly.

Study reveals who can be affected

A study exploring the mental health consequences of mass shootings was published recently in the January 2017 issue of Trauma, Violence and Abuse, which was e-published in 2015. Researchers at the Columbia and Boston Universities analyzed 49 peer-reviewed articles on the aftermath of 15 different mass shooting incidents. The study revealed that survivors and members of affected communities had significant associated adverse psychological outcomes. Indirectly exposed populations had “at least short-term increases in fears and declines in perceived safety.”

The authors identified several risk factors for adverse psychological outcomes. These included:

  1. Closer proximity to the attack
  2. Acquaintance with the deceased
  3. Females were more affected than males
  4. Difficulty with emotional regulation
  5. Pre-incident psychological symptoms
  6. Lower social support

The authors concluded that although more research is required to understand the impact of such incidents, the information gleaned so far could prove to be helpful in crisis preparation and post-incident mental health interventions.

When to ask for help

While it is normal to feel frightened and upset after a traumatic event, sometimes symptoms can persist, cause much distress, disrupt daily life or result in behavioral disorders. As the authors of the above study noted, even those who experience the traumatic event indirectly, such as on television, can get affected. Traumatic experiences may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some people. It is a treatable condition one can suffer from after a traumatic experience, such as a public shooting.

PTSD symptoms may include the following:

  1. Having nightmares
  2. Re-experiencing the event
  3. Being easily startled
  4. Having negative changes in beliefs and feelings
  5. Avoiding things associated with the trauma

Sometimes, these symptoms can improve by maintaining a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and avoiding the use of alcohol and drugs. Local support groups, crisis counselors and individual therapists may also be helpful while recovering from a trauma.

Finally, it is important to not allow emotional responses to these violent tragedies, which cloud collective behavior and rational decision-making. The discussion of gun laws as they relate to people with mental illness inevitably comes up after a public shooting in spite of the fact that those with mental illness are no more likely to commit acts of violence than the general population. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Ending the propagation of such myths will reduce stigma, remove barriers to treatment, and preserve the human rights of those with mental illness.

However, if you or someone you love is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms or self-medicating an emotional pain with alcohol or drugs, understand that effective treatment is available. For more information on treatment for trauma or mental health disorders, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About us

Sovereign Health is a leader in the treatment of individuals with mental health problems, substance use and dual diagnosis. Our beautiful Fort Myers and Pompano Beach locations use comprehensive assessment and provide evidence-based treatments to patients who want to recover from addiction and/or mental illness. We also provide ongoing support as well as online access to educational and health resources and other opportunities. To find out more about specialized programs at Sovereign Health, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for Sovereign Health, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. Sovereign Health is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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