Are Mass Shootings tied to Mental Health?
As the funerals for the 21 families in Uvalde take place in the next couple of weeks, the clinicians and staff at The Center for Integrative Counseling and Psychology (The Center) continue to grieve with this community.
Our hearts are simply broken. There are no words that can be expressed for the deaths of these young children, teachers and families and the violence experienced from this and other mass shootings. The trauma, grief and pain continue to be felt decades later from individuals and families impacted at Sandy Hook Elementary, Columbine High School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Those who weren’t directly affected by these shootings are still impacted. In a survey published in August 2019, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that more than three-quarters of American adults are stressed about possible mass shootings. That stress was highest among Hispanic and Black Americans, APA states. Nearly 1 in 3 adults said they feel they can’t go out and about without worrying about being in a mass shooting and that their fear prevents them from attending events or going to certain places.
However, are mass shootings tied to mental health?
According to research and analyses from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, preventing violence in America is an essential component of building healthy communities. Gun violence, both at the interpersonal and community levels, is an urgent public health problem.
When we talk about mental health and mass shootings, it is important that we’re not stigmatizing illnesses falsely. Often people immediately assume that the shooter had a mental health problem. Assuming that a shooting was related to mental illness when it wasn’t attributable to mental illness can further stigmatize people with mental health conditions.
We know that Americans are not more prone to mental illness than people in countries where these tragedies are far less common. Accurate information is an important part of coping and resilience, and misplacing blame for these horrendous acts of violence hinders healing and emboldens stigma surrounding mental health.
"Mental health impacts so many aspects of behavior," said Dr. Brad Schwall, President and CEO of The Center. "We know we need to create communities that are supportive, that make mental health care accessible, that are focused on measures within the community that can help keep people safe.
“As details about the shooting come to light it is important that we see the humanity from people around the world and on display in Uvalde. It shows the best of what our communities represent – loving and caring for our neighbors with empathy. We need to remind ourselves of this and teach our children to be compassionate every day.”
Talking to Children about the Shooting
From The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
The recent shootings have evoked many emotions—sadness, grief, helplessness, anxiety, and anger. Children who are struggling with their thoughts and feelings about the stories and images of the shooting may turn to trusted adults for help and guidance.
• Start the conversation. Talk about the shooting with your child. Not talking about it can make the event even more threatening in your child’s mind. Silence suggests that what has occurred is too horrible even to speak about or that you do not know what has happened.
• What does your child already know? Start by asking what your child/teen already has heard about the events from the media and from friends. Listen carefully; try to figure out what he or she knows or believes. As your child explains, listen for misinformation, misconceptions, and underlying fears or concerns. Understand that this information will change as more facts about the shooting are known.
• Gently correct inaccurate information. If your child/teen has inaccurate information or misconceptions, take time to provide the correct information in simple, clear, age-appropriate language.
• Encourage your child to ask questions and answer those questions directly. Like adults, children/teens are better able to cope with a difficult situation when they have the facts about it. Having question-and-answer talks gives your child ongoing support as he or she begins to cope with the range of emotions stirred up by this tragedy.
• Limit media exposure. Limit your child’s exposure to media images and sounds of the shooting, and do not allow your very young children to see or hear any TV/radio shooting- related messages. Even if they appear to be engrossed in play, children often are aware of what you are watching on TV or listening to on the radio. What may not be upsetting to an adult may be very upsetting and confusing for a child. Limit your own exposure as well. Adults may become more distressed with nonstop exposure to media coverage of this shooting.
• Extra help. Should reactions continue or at any point interfere with your children’s/teens’ abilities to function or if you are worried, The Center is here for you. Call 214-526-4525 or go to www.thecentercounseling.org.