In the aftermath of the 2017 Las Vegas, Nevada shooting, local Las Vegas residents may still find it difficult to adjust to routines of regular life. It’s normal for members of a community to struggle to understand the reality or context of a mass shooting: it may feel as if you’re entire life has changed, become less safe. Survivors of mass shootings know better than most that even if the news cycle changes, the uneasy feeling in the air may not. You may feel sudden or intense feelings of anguish, grief, or guilt - but what if you’re still feeling these or other intense emotions months after the fact?
Mental health experts and researchers point to PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, as an expected result of mass shootings. This can leave an entire community of survivors struggling to comprehend how much their personal and communal lives have changed with a single traumatic experience. Survivors may find it difficult to return to their lives they once lived or viewpoints they once shared. They may even blame themselves for how they reacted during the event or their actions immediately after.
Las Vegas’ survivors join unlikely peers in Sandy Hook, Orlando and more in an unfortunate network of mass shooting survivors. Unlike sexual assault or combat, the PTSD generated by the specific context and experience of a mass shooting can manifest in different ways, due to the extremely intimate nature of the attack.
Whether in Las Vegas or abroad, if you’re experiencing PTSD or recovering from experiencing a mass shooting, you are not alone. More resources become available by the day to mass shooting survivors, and experts are working to better understand how mass shootings specifically impact our mental health.
What is PTSD?
The National Center for PTSD describes post traumatic stress disorder as a “mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.” It’s normal for survivors of traumatic events to experience intrusive, upsetting memories, feel paranoia, or have trouble sleeping after these types of events. Because a mass shooting occurs in the community of a survivor, they may experience trauma around certain locations, buildings, or regions of their city or town. It can be hard for survivors to do normal activities, including going to work or school, spending time with loved ones, or leaving the house to run errands.
Most people start to feel better in the weeks or months after the traumatic event, but sometimes, these unpleasant feelings and emotions linger for longer than we realize. When this occurs, PTSD is the believed culprit.
Understand that PTSD can happen to anyone, regardless of age, background, experience, and location. A variety of factors can increase the chance of developing PTSD that a survivor may or may not be able to control, like stress levels, previous traumatic experiences, or immediate personal injury (during or after the attack.) However, other positive factors, like social and familial support, can make PTSD less likely to develop in survivors.
How do I Know if I Have PTSD?
PTSD symptoms can appear at any time, though most appear within three months of a traumatic event. If these symptoms persist longer than a month or interfere with your normal life, you may have PTSD.
A person with PTSD may have some, all, or none of the listed symptoms, or only experience symptoms under certain circumstances. Symptoms may appear and reappear over the course of weeks, months, or years.
The American Psychiatric Association groups most PTSD symptoms into four major categories:
- Intrusive thoughts or repeated, involuntary memories. Survivors may experience nightmares about or vivid flashbacks of the traumatic event.
- Avoidance of people, places, activities, objects, and situations that remind the survivor of the traumatic events. Survivors may try to avoid thinking about or remembering the event or avoid talking about it.
- Negative thoughts about one’s self or actions during or after the event. Survivors may adopt negative belief patterns or systems about themselves (“I am a bad person”) or others (“I can’t trust other people.”) Survivors may also experience fear, horror, anger, guilt, shame, disinterest, or detachment from themselves and others.
- Reactivity or increased irritability. Survivors may find it easier to express anger through outbursts or behaving in a self-destructive way. They may be easy startled or have trouble focusing or sleeping.
Survivors of mass shootings in particular may avoid large crowds, concerts, or depictions of real or simulated violence. They may feel startled by loud noises or real/simulated gunshots in film or TV shows.
Finding Help for PTSD
After a traumatic event, it's normal to think, act, and feel differently than usual. If your symptoms last longer than a few months, are very distressing, and interrupt your daily life, you should get help. Regardless of whether or not you have PTSD, treatment can help if thoughts and feelings from the trauma are bothering you.
If you think you have PTSD or are currently experiencing some or many PTSD symptoms, it’s important to talk to a mental health care provider or to someone you trust who can help you locate such a resource. PTSD does not simply “go away on its own,” and requires the guidance of a trained mental health professional who can help you in a way your loved ones cannot.
The only way to be certain that you have PTSD is to talk to a mental health care provider. The provider will ask about your trauma, your symptoms, and other problems you may have.
There are two main types of PTSD treatment: psychotherapy (known also as counselling or talk therapy) and medication. Trauma-based psychotherapy involves meeting with a therapist. Specific medications like SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) can help mitigate bothersome PTSD symptoms. Medication and talk therapy can always be combined for a patient’s optimal treatment plan.
If you’re struggling to recover from a mass shooting or experiencing PTSD symptoms, the next best step is to reach out to a mental health facility or professional. You don’t have to heal from a traumatic event alone. A mental health team can support your recovery goals and help you process the trauma or event until it is no longer as painful to experience.
Desert Parkway Behavioral Healthcare Hospital is proud to serve the Las Vegas, Nevada and surrounding communities with quality mental health care services and support. To learn more about our in- and out-patient adult or teen services, visit our online contact form or call us directly at 877-663-7976.
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