With the increasing mass shootings around the country, it is more important now than ever to assess the recent rise of gun-related violence plaguing the United States within the past few decades.
The Effect of Gun Violence on Society
According to the Pew Research Center, 2021 witnessed more American deaths brought about by gun-related injuries than any other year on record, marking a 23% increase in total gun deaths since 2019. Over 48,000 American deaths were induced by gun violence, 43% of which encompassed homicides, and over half comprised suicides.
While the high number of gun-related deaths in the United States is attributed to the country’s growing population, there are 7.5 suicides and 6.7 homicides for every 100,000 people in 2021. This is the highest rate of per capita gun-related deaths that the United States has seen since the early 1990s.
In 2020 and 2021, firearms were deemed the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1-17. Between January 2022 and January 2023, over 600 mass shootings befell the country. Furthermore, the majority of Americans have been personally affected by gun violence. Among these include Americans who have themselves been threatened with a firearm, have a family member’s life taken by a firearm, have personally witnessed someone being shot, have purchased a gun in self-defense, or have been injured during a shooting.
What Causes Gun Violence to Impact Mental Health?
Being exposed to gun violence can lead to feelings of fear, shock, and general unsafety. Not only can gun violence impact mental health in the short term, but the ramifications of gun violence can have a profound and long-term negative impact on anyone’s mental health. Gun violence can affect mental health in a multitude of ways.
Social Media and the News
With gun violence on the rise, it is increasingly difficult to ignore the vast amounts of media content reporting the numerous gun violence incidents taking place in our country. Heart-wrenching accounts of the lives taken by gun-related injuries appear on the front pages of news outlets and headlines that are distributed across social media platforms.
Gun Violence Does Not Discriminate
Children and adolescents are equally, if not more, prone to the dangers of gun-related violence, and as a parent, news of gun violence taking place at schools can be unnerving and petrifying.
Being involved directly in a gun violence incident, witnessing a gun violence incident, or even overhearing about gun violence incidents can leave individuals traumatized and susceptible to developing stress or even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Living in an area where gun violence is common can additionally lead to increased feelings of stress, impacting your health and maintaining a proper work-life balance. Even more, losing a loved one to gun violence can lead to powerful feelings of grief and anger.
Whether you have been directly impacted by gun violence or whether you’re overwhelmed by seeing the constant stream of gun violence incidents on the news, there are ways to manage your feelings, cope with trauma, and regain a healthy emotional balance.
How Gun-Violence-Related Trauma Impacts You
First, you should begin with a self-assessment to determine if you have signs indicating that you have been traumatized by gun violence. These signs can manifest both physically and mentally and have a strong adverse effect on your body and mind.
Listen to your body. If you have difficulty or heightened breathing, dizzy spells, unfocused thoughts, cold sweats, and trembling, these all indicate that your body has entered an anxious state. Further, recurring thoughts of a traumatic gun violence-related event and changes in your sleep cycles, such as continuous nightmares or flashbacks, can all coalesce into an overall state of exhaustion coupled with stress and anxiety.
Emotional symptoms, such as constant fear, disbelief, anguish, helplessness, and guilt or shame, can all indicate that you have been traumatized by gun violence. You may notice that you are increasingly and easily startled by loud noises, followed by feelings of crippling anxiety preventing you from engaging in your day-to-day activities.
You also may feel stunned and unable to believe the events that took place, leaving you unable to focus. Feelings of intense sadness can also make it impossible for you to feel content with your day. Often, feelings of helplessness and guilt can lead to frustration and self-loathing that only exacerbate the situation that you’re in.
How to Rebuild Your Life
To alleviate your symptoms and regain agency, begin with acknowledging your feelings. This is often the most difficult step for many people, as certain emotional symptoms, including hopelessness, can make you feel powerless in addressing your mental health. It is important to remember that everything you’re feeling is completely normal.
Be patient and give yourself the grace and time to begin the healing process. No one’s healing journey is the same, so it is important to become intimate with your feelings and embrace a kind approach to your mental health. Connect with your emotions on a new level to understand which approaches to mitigating your symptoms work for you.
Consider finding someone to talk to about your feelings. Isolating yourself and ruminating on past events will often deepen your negative feelings. Speaking to loved ones who are open and understanding about what occurred can help ease your mind, and speaking with a therapist can provide you with an objective, professional perspective that can offer you new viewpoints and methodologies for addressing your trauma.
Find healthy outlets to help channel your negative thoughts into something positive or productive. Expressing yourself through a hobby can help you sort through your emotions in a way that sometimes words are limited in doing. Set aside time in your day to meditate, practice breathing techniques, and rediscover a lost passion can help you manage your trauma and improve your mental health.
Disconnect and Reconnect
Disconnecting from social media and the news may help reduce your trauma symptoms as well. Replacing your social media use with other activities will lessen the likelihood of seeing a news story or event that may rekindle your trauma.
Use social media to maintain your sense of community and friendship. It may be a good idea to block or mute certain news accounts or users to decrease the likelihood of seeing something potentially upsetting. You can even channel your trauma into finding other similarly impacted individuals and come together to create a community of discussion and advocacy.
Be Patient and Kind to Yourself
It may feel like you’ll never be able to get your life back. You may feel alone and that no one understands you. However, you must remember that you are never alone. Countless people have unfortunately been impacted by gun violence, and you, like many others, can fight through your trauma and rebuild your life. Healing is a journey, and as always, remember to be patient and kind to yourself.
Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Programs
Comprehensive treatment programs offered at mental health facilities and rehab centers can establish a long-term solution to mental illness.
Residential Treatment is the most intense form of mental health treatment. Patients live onsite at recovery facilities and may first undergo detox or medication management to help with withdrawal if they are also abusing substances. After this step, clients undergo various therapies each day to facilitate recovery.
Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
IOP is a day treatment program that transitions between inpatient treatment and returning to daily life. IOP offers flexibility during treatment so patients don’t have to uproot their lives to seek recovery from mental illness. Many IOPs offer evening schedules so patients can still maintain employment.
Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
PHP is a more involved outpatient treatment program. It involves rigorous daily attendance for 30 hours each week. PHP is often recommended before starting IOP for a smooth transition. You still get to go home to your everyday life, so you don’t miss anything.
Sober living offers structured housing that provides additional accountability through drug tests and curfews. Sober living is often used with PHP and IOP and makes for an easier transition back to daily life and obligations.
Mental Health Resources
SAHMSA’s National Helpline
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a national helpline that is free, confidential, and available all hours of the day, every day of the year. SAMHSA provides both informational services for those confronting mental and abuse disorders and referral services to treatment facilities, support groups, and community organizations near you.
Crisis Text Line
Text HOME to 741741
Crisis Text Line offers 24-hour support for people seeking help from anywhere in the United States. Volunteer Crisis counselors are trained to receive your text messages and respond to those seeking help, whether you need support or someone to talk to.
Trauma Survivors Network
Trauma Survivors Network is a community of patients and survivors looking to connect with one another and rebuild their lives after a serious injury. The goal of their resources and programs is to ensure that trauma survivors have a stable recovery and can form relationships with peers who have been through similar experiences.
NAMI National Helpline
Text HelpLine to 62640
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides a free, nationwide peer-support service that provides information, resource referrals, and support to people living with a mental health condition or their families and caregivers. HelpLine staff and volunteers are experienced, well-trained, and able to provide guidance.
Call or text 988
The 988 Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides 24/7 free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. The Lifeline is committed to improving crisis services and advancing suicide prevention by empowering individuals, offering support, advancing professional best practices, and raising awareness.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
(800) 799-7233 or text START to 88788
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for free, confidential support. The hotline believes that everyone deserves healthy relationships free from domestic violence and aims to help individuals break out of the cycle of abuse. If you’ve received threats of gun violence or abuse, reach out as soon as you can safely contact the organization and get the help you need.
Find Help Now
You may feel like trauma from gun violence will never allow you to heal, but this isn’t true. With trauma-informed treatment and comprehensive recovery programs, you can overcome mental health disorders caused by gun violence and find a future free from the burdens of your past.
Don’t let trauma control your life. At TRUE Addiction and Behavioral Health, we’ll help you fight back with caring and innovative treatment that promotes overall healing. For more information, call our 24/7 helpline at (615) 802-6460 or contact email@example.com.