Coping With PTSD Symptoms Following a Shooting

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There are a number of traumatic events that can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); however, exposure to shooting may place someone at a particularly high risk for developing symptoms of PTSD.

This article discusses the psychological effects of experiencing gun violence and the symptoms of PTSD that may occur afterward. It also covers some of the things you can do to get help coping with the aftermath of a shooting.

The Impact of Gun Violence Exposure

Exposure to gun violence, such as a shooting, can be particularly difficult to cope with for a number of reasons. First, shootings are unpredictable and uncontrollable. Situations that are perceived as unpredictable and uncontrollable are much more likely to bring on high levels of helplessness, anxiety, and fear.

Because gun violence is uncontrollable and unpredictable, people may be left feeling as though there is nothing they can do to protect themselves in the future.

Second, during a shooting, there is an extreme threat to a person's life. This experience can drastically change a person's outlook on life as well as destroy commonly held assumptions that we are safe or beliefs like "bad things won't happen to me."

In addition to feeling as though your own life is in danger during a shooting, a person is more likely to be exposed to the death or injury of others, which may bring up feelings of horror, magnifying the impact of this type of traumatic event.

Recap

Shootings are sudden, unexpected, and violent. Because of this, people often feel fearful, anxious, and powerless, which can contribute to symptoms of PTSD that people may experience after a shooting.

PTSD Symptoms That May Arise Following a Shooting

In the aftermath of a shooting, a person may experience a number of symptoms that would be considered part of an acute stress disorder response (or if they persist beyond one month, a PTSD response). Some of these symptoms may include:

  • Frequent and intense nightmares about the event
  • Intrusive thoughts or memories about the shooting that are easily triggered by things in your environment (for example, newspaper articles, television shows, movies, conversations about the shooting)
  • Attempts to avoid situations or places that remind you of the shooting or places where you feel you could be in danger of experiencing a similar event again (for example, unfamiliar or crowded places)
  • A high level of fear and anxiety upon hearing sounds that are similar to a gunshot, such as a car backfiring or fireworks
  • Feeling constantly on edge or always on guard, almost as if there is danger lurking around every corner
  • Having difficulties sleeping or staying asleep

Of course, these are only some of the symptoms that may arise following a shooting. It is also not uncommon to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Getting the Help That You Need

In the aftermath of a shooting, it is very important to monitor your symptoms. Many of the symptoms that may arise, such as being on edge and constantly on guard, are actually part of your body's natural and adaptive response to a highly stressful event.

For many people, these symptoms will naturally decline over time. However, for some, these symptoms may persist and get worse, ultimately leading to the development of PTSD. If you notice that your symptoms are getting worse, it's important to intervene early on.

Studies have shown that having and seeking out social support can be beneficial in recovering from a traumatic event. Even though you may want to avoid people or isolate yourself, it's important to remain active and maintain your connections with friends and loved ones.

In addition, keep an eye out for unhealthy coping strategies, such as drug or alcohol use. Although substance use may feel effective for reducing anxiety in the short term, its effects are temporary and ultimately may make symptoms worse. Substance use only masks the anxiety; it does not help you work through it. Consequently, the anxiety will often come back, and sometimes, it will come back even stronger.

It may also be useful to seek out professional help. There are a number of helpful resources on the web that can help you find treatment providers in your area who specialize in the treatment of trauma and PTSD.

If you or a loved one are struggling with PTSD, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Summary

Being exposed to gun violence can cause people to feel anxious, afraid, horrified, and helpless. The experience can not only contribute to acute stress, but it can also lead to longer-lasting symptoms of PTSD including nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and hypervigilance. Getting professional treatment can help people cope and reduce symptoms associated with PTSD.

A Word From Verywell

The psychological effects of gun violence can last long after the shooting. If you are struggling with symptoms of PTSD or other conditions such as anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor. Effective treatments are available that can help you understand your experience and learn to cope with the trauma and memories of the event.

Your doctor can refer you to a mental health professional who can help, or you might consider looking online for a PTSD therapist. If you are interested in trying online therapy, one type known as internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of a variety of conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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