Dealing with grief after a mass shooting: 7 tips to consider
In 2021, mass shootings in the United States averaged two per day, according to Gun Violence Archive. The organization defines mass shootings as shootings that result in at least 4 dead or injured.
The current gun violence crisis is a type of collective trauma or large-scale event that disrupts a community’s sense of safety.
An environment where death and serious injury occur so frequently and unpredictably can be traumatic in itself. So repeated mass shootings can easily result in trauma, even if you are not directly involved.
Grieving often closely follows the trauma. You can cry:
- the lives lost in a particular incident
- the less violent world of years gone by
- your own faith in humanity
Grief and trauma can become deeply intertwined, to the point that it’s nearly impossible for you to tell which feelings represent grief and which represent trauma.
The complicated and painful emotions that arise in the aftermath of a mass shooting can seem difficult to process and manage. These 7 tips offer a starting point to work through.
If you find yourself in tears over the news of the latest school shooting, chances are you’re not just crying about that specific incident. You could also mourn the thousands of shooting deaths that preceded this latest shooting.
You may also feel upset about conspiracies on social media claiming that the shooting victims were actors or never existed. Or maybe you’re outraged at what you see as a weak government response to the crisis, or at how gun lobbyists can
All of these issues feed into and reinforce each other, creating a complex crisis with no quick fix in sight. In short, you don’t have to worry about “overreacting” to mass shootings. Despair, panic, rage – these are all understandable reactions to a deeply troubling situation.
Grief and trauma have many of the same symptoms, but they are functionally different:
- Grief, a way of dealing with loss, often involves grief and longing. You might, for example, mourn the loss of a victim you knew and wish they were still alive.
- Trauma describes your emotional response to threats or potential threats. If you didn’t know any of the victims, you may not have had strong personal feelings about their deaths. Still, the graphic media coverage of the shooting may give you nightmares about getting shot.
A combination of grief and trauma can also make recovery more difficult. Trauma can, for example, cause you to stop talking with friends or going online to avoid reminders of mass shootings.
Taking time for yourself can temporarily help relieve stress, certainly. But withdrawing completely from society for long periods of time usually doesn’t help. Cutting social support can actually increase your sense of loss, making it harder to deal with.
Everyone experiences grief and trauma differently. Some people cry and go wild. Others isolate themselves and become emotionally numb. The signs can be very subtle, so you may not even realize you are reacting specifically to the mass shooting.
Signs to watch out for
Potential signs of trauma and grief after a mass shooting include:
One of the most important ways to deal with tragedies such as mass shootings? Talk to people you trust.
Your feelings will eventually come out one way or another, and turning them into words can offer a healthier means of expression than smothering them until they appear as stress rashes. or anxious dreams.
At the community level, discussing large-scale trauma can help people make sense of the event. People can exchange information about who was shot, where the violence happened, how the shooter got his gun, etc. A set of shared facts can make it easier to think about ways to prevent similar incidents.
Social support becomes especially important when a mass shooting targets a marginalized group. For example, LGBTQIA+ people experienced disproportionately higher levels of stress after the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. The attack on a community space increased feelings of vulnerability and fear of congregating in visibly strange spaces among many LGBTQIA+ people.
Many people consider social connections to be an essential way to build resilience after tragedy. Community and social support can play an especially critical role for LGBTQIA+ people of color, who often face violence on multiple fronts and often go unrecognized in public solidarity efforts.
Engaging on social media after a mass shooting or other act of violence can affect your emotional health, especially if you come across images or videos of the shooting.
According to a 2020 study, exposure to graphic images of a mass shooting can:
Text messages can also become emotionally overwhelming, especially when they contain personal attacks or conspiracy theories. To protect your mental health, you may find it helpful to set limits on your use of social media.
You can think of a boundary as a kind of fence for your social life. While you can’t stop people from sharing graphics or upsetting things online, you can control how much of this material you’ll let through your “fence” and engage with.
Some ways to set limits on social media:
- Filter hashtags related to filming.
- Use the block button liberally when encountering trolls.
- Make sure the information comes from a reputable source before committing to a post.
- Cut out chunks of your day when you’re not checking your social media feeds.
Get more tips on navigating social media after a mass shooting.
In the aftermath of a tragedy, it can feel like everyone is talking about it: on TV and radio, in line at the store, even at school and work. The amount of exposure in your daily life can seem overwhelming, even if you have set strict numerical limits around the shot.
During this time, try to be kind to yourself. You might need more rest or find it harder to concentrate than usual, and that’s okay.
Across the country, people are facing similar challengers. A 2021 study examining 54 years of mass shootings linked them to negative changes in the gross domestic product of the United States. In other words, the mass shootings seem to be making the country, as a whole, less productive — and a lot of people could use a healthy dose of self-care.
For many people, self-care conjures up things like a fun hobby or relaxing music. These activities can ease emotional distress, but don’t forget to take care of your body as well.
Self-care is a form of passive or reactive coping. In a nutshell, it can help you reduce the negative impact of a stressor on your life.
Active coping, on the other hand, involves trying to solve the problem directly. Some people find it easier to deal with feelings of grief and stress when embarking on a project that could lead to change.
In the context of mass shootings, active coping usually means activism and political engagement. Some people cope with the trauma of mass shootings by joining in activism, including:
- raises funds for non-profit organizations that help victims and survivors of gun violence
- attend demonstrations
- participate in local town halls to support actions against gun violence
Activism can help people strengthen community bonds and develop a sense of agency. And when initiatives succeed, they can be a valuable source of hope.
If you don’t feel ready for active adaptation yet, that’s absolutely okay – everyone’s recovery is different. Just know that you have options to act on if this is something that interests you.
Gun violence has a huge impact on people across the United States. This major problem affects everyone in the country to some extent.
If you’re struggling to overcome grief, trauma, or other distress related to the mass shootings, you’re not alone — and you don’t need a mental health diagnosis to get a little support. emotional.
Some signs that professional support could help you:
- You have a lot of floating anxiety and you can’t relax.
- You compulsively check for updates on every last shot, often unaware of other things you need to do.
- You feel guilty and responsible for the victims’ deaths, even though you could have done nothing to prevent the shooting.
- You avoid going to public places or near crowds for fear of getting shot.
- You feel completely hopeless in the face of all this violence.
A therapist or other mental health professional can offer more advice for managing these concerns at any time. You don’t have to wait until you’ve reached a crisis point before getting help.
The current gun violence crisis is a collective trauma that has many people in the United States worried about their safety as they mourn the continued loss of life. Even if you haven’t lost someone to gun violence yourself, you might feel a lot of grief and distress about the state of the country.
Turning to loved ones can make a big difference when it comes to dealing with these difficult feelings. It can also help with drawing boundaries for your use of social media, self-care, and engaging in community activism. A trauma therapist can also help you deal with any overwhelming or persistent mental health symptoms.
Emily Swaim is a freelance writer and writer specializing in psychology. She holds a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MA in Writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find more of his work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider. Find it on Twitter and LinkedIn.