PTSD Causes Coping With PTSD Symptoms Following a Shooting By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD Twitter Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. Learn about our editorial process Updated on November 15, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Akeem Marsh, MD Medically reviewed by Akeem Marsh, MD LinkedIn Twitter Akeem Marsh, MD, is a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist who has dedicated his career to working with medically underserved communities. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Verywell / Laura Porter Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Impact of Gun Violence PTSD Symptoms Getting Help 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 eventIntrusive 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 fireworksFeeling constantly on edge or always on guard, almost as if there is danger lurking around every cornerHaving 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. Symptoms and Diagnosis of PTSD 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. Coping With PTSD Summary Being exposed to gun violence can cause people to feel anxious, afraid, horrified, and helpless. This can not only contribute to acute stress, 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. What Is Critical Incident Stress Debriefing? 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 often 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. Gun Violence and Mental Illness: Understanding Links and Misconceptions 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. National Institute of Mental Health. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Gros DF, Flanagan JC, Korte KJ, Mills AC, Brady KT, Back SE. Relations among social support, PTSD symptoms, and substance use in veterans. Psychol Addict Behav. 2016;30(7):764-770. doi:10.1037/adb0000205 Kumar V, Sattar Y, Bseiso A, Khan S, Rutkofsky IH. The effectiveness of internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy in treatment of psychiatric disorders. Cureus. 2017;9(8):e1626. doi:10.7759/cureus.1626 By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for PTSD Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.