PTSD and School Shootings: What are the long term effects

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — May 31, 2019 — 3 min read
As with any life-threatening event, witnessing a school shooting has the potential to cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Experiencing heightened anxiety after a potentially traumatic event is a totally expected and normal reaction to extreme stress. When the feelings of anxiety don’t go away after time has passed and interfere with your daily routine, PTSD may be the cause.

Signs of PTSD include: increased anxiety, re-experiencing the event in nightmares or flashbacks, avoiding people, places, and things that remind you of the event, and negative changes in your thoughts about the world. About 30 percent of people who experience a potentially traumatic event will develop PTSD. Those at highest risk for the development to PTSD are individuals who were at the site of the shooting or feared for the safety of a loved one.

Addressing the following core needs after experiencing a potentially traumatic event can reduce the risk of developing PTSD.
  • Feeling safe again
  • Restoring a sense of calm and control
  • Connecting with loved ones and others
  • Getting through the crisis and the immediate effects to one’s life
  • Regaining feelings of hope and optimism
The National Center for PTSD recommends the following strategies to address core needs:
  • Focus on daily routines and look for ways to increase your sense of safety
  • If coverage of the event is increasing your distress, turn off the TV and radio and avoid social media
  • Break problems into manageable tasks and create simple steps toward achieving your solution
  • Engage in positive, healthy or meaningful activities, even if they are small, simple actions
  • Helping others can help you stay focused on something positive and build relationships.
  • Look for positive coping strategies that help you manage your emotions. Examples: listen to music; exercise; practice breathing routines; talk with others; spend time in nature, etc.
  • Spend time with people who give you a sense of security, calm, or happiness.
  • Try to change from negative to helpful thinking. Are your thoughts that are persistent and intrusive helpful to you right now? Try reframing or diverting your attention by practicing simple strategies like focusing on something or someone else in your life, finding ways to accept what has happened, praying, or practicing mindfulness.
  • Find meaningful ways to honor those who have suffered or who were lost.
 
When to Get Professional Help
If several months have passed since the traumatic event took place and you continue to experience symptoms of acute stress, it is time to seek professional help. As horrible as PTSD feels, there are scientifically proven methods to treat it. Look for a therapist that has specialized training in the treatment of trauma-related disorders.


Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Psychologist Dawn O’Malley contributed to this article.
 
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