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Symptoms of PTSD Following a Shooting

The Consequences of Gun Violence

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Updated January 11, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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

The Impact of Exposure to Gun Violence

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. In addition, situations like this may leave a person 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 can drastically change our 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 also more likely to be exposed to the death or injury of others. This may bring up feelings of horror, magnifying the impact of this type of traumatic event.

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. This may especially be the case for places where you feel you could be in danger of experiencing a similar event again (for example, unfamiliar places 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. For example, you may feel overly alert, and as a result, wake up in response to even the slightest of sounds.

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 worry.

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 is very important to intervene early on.

Studies have also shown that having and seeking out social support can be beneficial in recovering from a traumatic event. Therefore, even though you may want to avoid people or isolate, it is very 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 be very effective in reducing anxiety in the short-term, it is only a temporary solution. 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.

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