- Research shows that people who have been exposed to gun violence have higher levels of stress, depression, and suicidal ideation.
- The use of therapy can help reduce depressive symptoms and their recurrence.
- Mental health experts stress that seeking support can help people process their feelings and better cope with the trauma of gun violence.
In mid-March, two shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, and Boulder, Colorado, occurred within a one-week span, leaving 18 people dead. Not only do the shootings have ramifications for the people and communities directly impacted, but they also leave a stain on mental health. As a result, experts are urging people who have been directly impacted or have been exposed to gun violence to seek help and support.
“Trauma porn, the constant view of trauma over and over again can cause a sense of hyper-vigilance and anxiety,” Arron Muller, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker based in New York, tells Get Meds Info. He says the constant viewing of traumatic events such as a shooting can negatively impact people’s ability to carry out daily living and functioning such as sleeping, eating, and working. Research shows that gun violence exposure increases levels of psychological distress, depression, and suicidal thoughts compared to those who were not exposed.
Over time, consistent exposure to gun violence can lead to desensitization, according to Muller.
“You get to a point where it just doesn’t affect you anymore because it’s become so normalized, which is dangerous because you’ve lost the human connection, the human feeling to this trauma,” Muller says. He adds this can lead to people feeling numb and ignoring their feelings, highlighting the importance of seeking help and support from loved ones or licensed health professionals.
Lindsay Israel, MD, board-certified psychiatrist based in Delray Beach, Florida, says that there are healthy and unhealthy ways to cope after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. An example of unhealthy coping mechanisms include “turning to drugs or alcohol to forget or numb themselves from the emotions they’re having or just not caring about the stress or the fear that they’re having,” Israel tells Get Meds Info.
What This Means For You
If you or your loved ones are impacted by gun violence and are looking for treatment, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline at 1-800-662-4357.
Healthy Coping Mechanisms
There are healthy ways to cope including traditional psychotherapy. “If you’re talking with somebody, a friend, family member, about the thoughts and feelings you’re having, that really can be beneficial in preventing symptoms from really bubbling out down the road,” Israel says. Research shows that therapy reduced depressive disorders and the recurrence of the depressive disorders.
Israel stresses that if you’re feeling concerned or stressed about burdening others, licensed professionals are always available. “Stress, appetite changes, mood swings, irritability, if you notice these changes for yourself, reach out for help, especially if it’s a licensed professional that you’re reaching out to,” Israel explains.
In addition to seeking therapy or talking to others, Muller says that limiting media exposure and setting limits can aid in the coping process. “There are people unable to sleep and eat and perform their daily functioning because of the constant views of violence in the media,” Muller says. “So being able to set boundaries and limits and not feeling guilty about it.”
Barriers To Seeking Help
Asking for support is no easy task. Muller says stigma and arbitrary rules can prevent people from reaching out to ask for help.
“Despite the trauma that you experience, we have this notion that we need to be strong and that seeking help is a sign of weakness,” he says. However, Muller and Israel share that you are not alone with your emotions. “It is okay to get support and get help to process challenges that we experience,” Muller says.
Mental Health and Therapy Resources
If you or your loved one is struggling with the impacts of gun violence, Muller and Israel suggest mental health and healing resources.
American Counseling Association
The American Counseling Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing counseling and ensuring ethical and culturally-inclusive practices. They offer free mental health resources on their site.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce mental health disorders in the U.S. They aim to do this by offering a behavioral health treatment services locator to help patients identify mental health treatment services. In addition, they offer a disaster distress helpline. The helpline is toll-free and can help patients connect to the nearest crisis center for information, support, and counseling. To utilize the helpline, call 1-800-985-5990.
National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI)
As the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, NAMI offers support groups called NAMI Connection for people who are battling mental health conditions. The support groups are offered weekly, every other week, or monthly and the programs are available in Spanish. NAMI also offers family support groups for family members, partners, and friends. In addition, NAMI operates a helpline from Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. eastern time. For support, call 1-800-950-6264.
Kings Against Violence Initiative, Inc (KAVI)
KAVI is a nonprofit and youth-serving organization with a mission to prevent and eliminate interpersonal violence from the lives of young people. KAVI does this by operating youth violence intervention and healing programs based in Central Brooklyn that helps younger people cope with trauma, de-escalate conflict, and build leadership skills. For more information, visit KAVI.
Psychology Today is a mental health and behavioral science platform that features resources on their online platform. It runs and operates a free therapist finder. Enter a city, zip code, or therapist name to start searching. You can even use the price and issue filters to find the best therapist that fits within your budget and needs. There is also a type of therapy filter if you have a preference for the style of therapy you’re looking for. To start finding a therapist, visit here.