The Psychological Effects of Gun Violence

Image by Jose Alonso. Courtesy of Unsplash License.

Gun violence is an issue that plagues us nationwide. The sad reality is that we are all at risk, even here at SMCC. Less than three months into the new year, gun violence continues to surge throughout the country. According to the Gun Violence Archive, in just the beginning of 2023, there have already been 7,051 people who have died as a result of gun violence. The number of victims climbs by the hour and is constantly changing. This alarming report calls all of us into action and begs us to ask questions. Such as, what can we do to prevent this? What changes must we make to protect ourselves and our loved ones? And what effects is this having on not only us but on children and adolescents? In this article, we are going to delve deeper into the trauma and lifelong effects survivors of gun violence experience. 

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) says, “Trauma is the lasting emotional response that often results from living through a distressing event. Experiencing a traumatic event can harm a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships.” Studies have shown that trauma can rewire the affected brain and change the thinking process. It is widespread knowledge that trauma can cause mental health disorders, but it is less commonly known that trauma can also induce physical health issues. These could be diseases like diabetes or obesity, but could also be less serious illnesses like headaches or stomach pains. Trauma presents itself differently in every victim.

Gun violence is an extremely painful thing to experience, whether that be directly or indirectly. According to Everytown, “Nine out of 10 gun violence survivors report experiencing trauma.” This is an extremely high percentage, one that demonstrates the severity of gun violence. And the need for immediate action, not only to prevent it but also to help survivors and those who are living with this trauma. The article then goes on to report, “Fewer than half of survivors said they had access to the support, assistance, or services they needed to cope with its impact within the first six months or a year or more after the incident.” This lack of help is causing even more pain to these victims, forcing them to relive their trauma and not giving them the opportunity to heal. In an interview with the New York Times, Erika Felix, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said, “We really have to look at this as a public mental health crisis.”

The mental health disorder that is most prominent in gun violence victims is post-traumatic stress disorder. The APA defines PTSD as, “ a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, series of events or set of circumstances.” Symptoms could be anything ranging from intrusive thoughts to repeating memories or feelings of numbness. In an article for VeryWellMind, Matthew Tull says that the uncontrollability and unpredictability of gun violence, such as shootings, makes it even more difficult for survivors to cope. He then says, “Because of this, people often feel fearful, anxious, and powerless, which can contribute to symptoms of PTSD that people may experience after a shooting.”

Not only does PTSD affect the mind, but also the body. Some of the most common physical symptoms of PTSD include fatigue, body pains, and nausea. But long-term PTSD can result in more serious physical problems. Heart disease, strokes, arthritis, and high blood pressure are just a few of the lifelong effects that PTSD can have on an individual. Although we don’t know the specific reason PTSD causes these physical issues, we do know that these health problems may be a result of our “fight-or-flight” response. GoodRx Health says, “When you’re in fight-or-flight mode, your body releases chemicals and hormones that ‘prepare’ your body to respond to a dangerous situation, either by fighting or running away.” These releases lead to physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, muscle tension, and many others. 

Although it may be controversial to talk about mental health in regard to the perpetrator of the shooting, it is not, however, controversial to state that gun violence has a severe and major effect on the mental health of American citizens. One survivor said, “We can only learn to live with it and through it —[it] never goes away.” These victims need support and help, and it seems to be scarce. Everytown states, “Two-thirds of survivors who were shot and wounded expressed the need for mental health services, therapy, and support.” And even though these victims are all in need of assistance, a good amount of them can’t seem to find any. One survivor even reported that it seemed like law enforcement was more focused on the perpetrator than on aiding the victims.  Another survivor said, “If the university I was studying at had social workers or counselors, I would have asked them for help.”

This article should not only be a call to action against gun violence, but also a call to aid those affected by it. 

“The right to bear arms … does not and never will overpower the individual’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We cannot protect our guns before we protect our children.” – Florence Yared

Categories: Politics, State Politics

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