How mass shootings affect people’s mental health

A 2019 American Psychological Association survey found that a majority of US adults are stressed by mass shootings.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – So far in 2022 alone, mass shootings have occurred in all sorts of places: a supermarket, an elementary school and a Fourth of July parade.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, more than 300 mass shootings have occurred so far this year. The nonprofit organization defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are shot and killed, not including the shooter.

“Violence is something that affects all communities… We see it in rural areas; we see it in urban settings; we see it across the socioeconomic spectrum,” said Marizen Ramirez, a professor in the Department of Health and Environmental Sciences at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and an injury and violence prevention epidemiologist.

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A 2019 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that a majority of US adults are stressed by mass shootings, with one-third of adults saying it stops them from going to certain places and events.

Vale Wright, senior director of health care innovation at the APA, said just witnessing this level of trauma can have a significant impact on our stress levels. When not managed, it can affect physical and emotional well-being and lead to everything from increased blood pressure and muscle tension to anxiety and depression.

“It’s a community experience and we see that,” Ramirez said. “We are so connected through social media. Another part of it is that as we see violence happening on television, on social media, we know that witnessing violence can have some significant impacts. It can cause some mental health problems; it can lead to safety scares.”

According to a 2019 survey, 41% of youth reported ever seeing or hearing about gun violence. Among those exposed, half took protective action to protect themselves, and 58% reported being very or extremely scared, sad, or upset as a result of indirect gun violence.

“Seeing, witnessing, hearing gunshots and gun violence is under a broader umbrella term called adverse childhood experiences, and these are traumatic events that happen in childhood. They include everything from abuse, neglect, household dysfunction, but more recently it has also included community-level experiences and that includes witnessing violence,” Ramirez explained.

These experiences can lead to toxic stress in children.

“I do a little bit of work in schools, and what we see a lot is that traumatic stress actually shows up in terms of academic performance. So poor performance in school, kids have a hard time concentrating in school…difficulty forming relationships where feelings of fear and safety really affect their ability to trust adults and peers. And finally, what we’re seeing is inappropriate behavior in the classroom,” Ramirez said.

Despite all that, a New York Times report says there isn’t much data on what gun violence is doing to our collective mental health.

In June, the CEOs of 10 Minnesota health systems declared gun violence a public health crisis. They collaborate to find solutions.

RELATED: State health systems declare gun violence a public health emergency

“These mental health impacts are so critical, and we want to address them as well through things like trauma-informed care, community engagement, and policies that we know are effective in reducing gun violence.” , Ramirez said.

Wright said it’s important to stay informed, but people should give themselves permission to take breaks from social media and the news. She recommends doing something that’s self-soothing, like going for a walk. Wright said it’s all about behaviors that will build resilience and protect a person’s emotional well-being.

If you or someone you know is facing a mental health crisis, you can find help from the following resources:

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