Mass shootings among most prominent stressors for Americans, studies find

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Mass shootings in America has left trauma scars that affect mental health and wellness. The 2018 Current Population Study found that Americans have grown increasingly desensitized to mass shootings.  Photo by    Dan Meyers    on    Unsplash

Mass shootings in America has left trauma scars that affect mental health and wellness. The 2018 Current Population Study found that Americans have grown increasingly desensitized to mass shootings. Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

When people think of the most common stressors for Americans, they may immediately bring up workplace or family struggles. These are common predicaments that, through generations, have caused psychological distress in a majority of individuals at one point or another in their lives. However, a recent study has revealed a much darker contemporary stressor.  

“Stress in America,” a yearly study conducted by the American Psychological Association, found that 71% of Americans face significant distress and worry over the idea of mass shootings in 2019, which is an increase from 62% in the 2018 edition of the study.  

The most recent study was conducted within the U.S. through The Harris Poll between Aug. 1 and Sept. 3. All 3,647 participants were 18 or older, and the weighted data stemmed from the 2018 Current Population Survey by the United States Census Bureau, according to TreeHugger.

These findings should come as no surprise. Americans have grown increasingly desensitized to mass shootings since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. In 2019 alone, there have been more mass shootings in America than the number of days so far in the year, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.

The trauma from these mass shootings can often create scars that are lasting — and in some cases deadly. The painful psychological effects of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, 2018 are one example.  

Sydney Aiello, a 19-year-old graduate of MSD and a close friend of 18-year-old victim Meadow Pollack, died by suicide a year after the massacre at her school in March. She struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt.  

A week later, Calvin Desir, a 16-year-old at the school who was a freshman at the time of the shooting, took his own life as well. Those in Parkland began using the hashtag #17+2 and demanding Broward County to do more to help students in need who were traumatized by the events of the year prior.  

And it is not only Parkland. In the same month that Aiello and Desir took their lives, 49-year-old Jeremy Richman, the father of Avielle Richman, one of the young victims of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, took his own life at the headquarters of the Avielle Foundation, which he started in the wake of his daughter’s death.  

Those who survive and lose their families or loved ones in these types of murders grieve unequivocally. There are no words for the sheer and utter sadness and desperation that stems from being a witness to or losing someone in a mass shooting. These unbelievably traumatic events leave scars — physically, emotionally and mentally — long after the media has stopped covering the story and people have stopped asking how you are coping.  

Nelba Márquez-Greene, the mother of 6-year-old Sandy Hook victim Ana Márquez-Greene, described her long-lasting grief in a tweet on Wednesday morning.  

“The world is busy chasing so many other things — even in the space of GV [gun violence] prevention. Somebody has to remember to say their names,” Márquez-Greene said. “Somebody has to remember their families. Somebody has to remember their favorite color and sound of their voices. They should have come home.” 

On the same note, it is clear that many Americans are wary of the seemingly constant trend of mass shootings that claim the lives of innocent people day after day.   

In the wake of the August mass murders in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, the American Psychological Association released a survey in conjunction with the Harris Poll asking about the responses of citizens to being in public places after acts of mass violence. The results were overwhelming: 79% of Americans experience some amount of stress related to mass shootings, and a third of the 2,000 respondents said their fears have pushed them away from being in public spaces — such as movie theaters and malls, according to Time Magazine.

In response, the American Psychological Association Help Center has released a list of things you can do to manage your thoughts in the wake of these acts of violence. These ideas include talking about your feelings with a trusted friend, family member or therapist, striving for balance in your outlook on life and being patient with yourself and others who may be feeling distressed after a tragedy. 

As always, help is available. You are never alone.  

Resources include UConn Student Health and Wellness Mental Health, located on the fourth floor of Arjona, as well as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255. 


Taylor Harton is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at taylor.harton@uconn.edu.

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