Frequent news reports about the shootings in Las Vegas that killed 59 people and left nearly 600 injured is causing stress and anxiety for many people, even those who were not directly impacted by the events. People feel vulnerable, and events like the one that occurred in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 leave people – some of whom may be your employees – with questions and concerns about the causes of and solutions to gun violence. The American Psychological Association (APA) is offering resources that can help people with both issues.
“You may be struggling to understand how a shooting could occur and why such a terrible thing would happen. There may never be satisfactory answers to these questions,” the APA says. “Meanwhile, you may wonder how to go on living your daily life. You can strengthen your resilience – the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity – in the days and weeks ahead.”
One APA resource offers tips for managing feelings of distress in the aftermath of a shooting. The tips offered by APA include:
Talk about it. Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen to your concerns. Receiving support and care can be comforting and reassuring. It often helps to speak with others who have shared your experience so you do not feel so different or alone.
Strive for balance. When a tragedy occurs, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and have a negative or pessimistic outlook. Balance that viewpoint by reminding yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting, even encouraging. Striving for balance empowers you and allows for a healthier perspective on yourself and the world around you.
Turn it off and take a break. You may want to keep informed, but try to limit the amount of news you take in whether it’s from the Internet, television, newspapers or magazines. While getting the news informs you, being overexposed to it actually can increase your stress. The images can be very powerful in reawakening your feeling of distress. Also, schedule some breaks to distract yourself from thinking about the incident and focus instead on something you enjoy. Try to do something that will lift your spirits.
Honor your feelings. Remember that it is common to have a range of emotions after a traumatic incident. You may experience intense stress similar to the effects of a physical injury. For example, you may feel exhausted, sore or off balance. Take care of yourself.
Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest and build physical activity into your day. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can suppress your feelings rather than help you to manage and lessen your distress. In addition, alcohol and drugs may intensify your emotional or physical pain. Establish or re-establish routines such as eating meals at regular times and following an exercise program. If you are having trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
Help others or do something productive. Locate resources in your community on ways that you can help people who have been affected by this incident, or have other needs. Helping someone else often has the benefit of making you feel better, too.
If you recently lost friends or family in this or other tragedies, remember that grief is a long process. Give yourself time to experience your feelings and to recover. For some, this might involve staying at home; for others, it may mean getting back to a daily routine. Dealing with the shock and trauma of such an event will take time. It is typical to expect many ups and downs, including “survivor guilt,” feeling bad that you escaped the tragedy while others did not.
Talking to children about the shooting isn’t easy but parents or teachers shouldn’t completely shield them from violence or tragedies.
APA offers a series of tips for parents and other caregivers on how to guide the conversation in a proactive and supportive way. Parents should also watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety. “The conversation may not seem easy, but taking a proactive stance, discussing difficult events in age-appropriate language can help a child feel safer and more secure,” according to the APA.
For those who feel too overwhelmed to use the tips provided, APA suggests consulting a psychologist or other mental health professional. “Turning to someone for guidance may help you strengthen your resilience and persevere through difficult times,” says the APA.
There is no single personality profile that reliably can predict who will use a gun in a violent act, according to a report issued by the APA in December 2013 titled, Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention and Policy. There is, however, psychological research that has helped develop evidence-based programs that can prevent violence through primary and secondary interventions.
Written by a task force composed of psychologists and other researchers, the report synthesized the available science on the complex underpinnings of gun violence, from gender and culture to gun policies and prevention strategies.
“The skills and knowledge of psychologists are needed to develop and evaluate programs and settings in schools, workplaces, prisons, neighborhoods, clinics and other relevant contexts that aim to change gendered expectations for males that emphasize self-sufficiency, toughness and violence, including gun violence,” according to the report.
Gun violence is estimated to cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year in medical, legal and other expenses, not to mention the psychological toll. APA acting Executive Director for Public Interest Clinton Anderson, PhD, writing in a blog post titled No Silver Bullet: Why We Need Research on Gun Violence Prevention, suggested the federal government needs to approach it as a public health problem.
“Some have argued that we need to focus on policies that prosecute criminals and prevent those individuals who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others from obtaining a firearm,” wrote Anderson. “While these policies have merit, they are clearly not fully effective, and do not address the roots of violence in our society.”
No single policy will prevent gun violence, writes Anderson, who added, “It will take a multi-faceted approach. Funding research that explores these horrific, impulsive acts can help us all inform and adapt our policy approach.”
In another blog post, clinical psychologist Joel Dvoskin, Ph.D., warned against unfairly stigmatizing the mentally ill by immediately jumping to the conclusion that most shooters have a mental illness.
“Too often, even the most well-intentioned among us believe that most mass shootings are carried out by those with untreated mental illness,” he wrote. “What the perpetrators seem to have in common is the experience of extreme situational crisis.”