The recent suicides of two survivors of the Parkland, Florida shootings have devastated the nation and shed light on a serious problem facing victims and survivors of gun violence — undiagnosed and untreated trauma.
After a mass shooting, survivors are likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with symptoms such as isolated behavior, nightmares and emotional numbness.
If untreated, PTSD can disrupt a person’s relationships with their family and friends, as well as increase the risk of suicide.
Unfortunately, the victims of PTSD aren’t just mass shooting victims. Many kids living in inner-city neighborhoods in Baltimore and Chicago witness violence on a regular basis.
Witnessing violence at a young age can lead to a multitude of problems later in life such as PTSD, which can then lead to an increased likeliness to engage in violent activity.
These kids are often pushed off by the mainstream conversation as problematic children who are helpless victims of their own environments. A CBS TV station in San Francisco reported on PTSD among East Oakland youths in 2014 using the term “hood disease,” a derogatory term used to refer to the PTSD linked to the violence and trauma in inner-city youth.
Violent crime is on the rise, according data collection by the Major Cities Chiefs Association — an organization comprised of Chiefs and Sheriffs representing the largest cities in the United States and Canada — Dallas, Las Vegas and Louisville, Kentucky, among other cities, saw homicide rates rise in 2016.
It’s easy to see crime statistics in the news, and mass shootings are always getting national attention. Many people turn off the news when they can’t handle the montage of never-ending horrors.
But kids living in these environments can’t do the same. Their everyday lives don’t gain national support. They can’t turn off the news or ignore the statistics because they’re living them.
In a study, researchers from Emory University, New York University, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute surveyed more than 1,900 patients at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. Findings determined PTSD is highly linked with interpersonal violence, especially in high crime rate areas. This can lead to violence and aggressive behavior as children age.
In 2016, the majority of homicide suspects were over 19 and had at least one prior arrest, according to a study from the University of Chicago. Both studies determined there’s a correlation between trauma experienced early in life and the violent tendencies that arose as the subjects grew up.
The shooting in Parkland opened up a major national discussion about gun reform, one that looks promising. Organizations such as the Sandy Hook Promise are working to spread gun violence prevention programs and fight for sensible national policy. This is another opportunity to enact change in the memory of those who were lost.
Americans can start by fighting for more resources in public schools. Mental health is discussed more in schools now thanks to organizations, such as Minding Your Mind, which send speakers to share their recovery stories with kids.
Like most resources though, this is available in private schools and wealthy public schools. It’s imperative these resources reach areas where kids are most at risk — where they’re already experiencing the trauma and receiving no support.
Providing mental health resources and support in these schools wouldn’t only improve life for the kids but could potentially help create safer neighborhoods.
Making resources and treatment accessible shouldn’t be optional.
When people approach things like gun violence and resources for the victims, they need to make sure to consider those who are often overlooked or written off by the public. All kids deserve to grow up in a safe and healthy environment.