Acute-stress-disorderThe recent, senseless shooting at the Columbia Mall in Maryland took the lives of two innocent young people, injured five bystanders, and potentially traumatized countless others. The idea that an intrinsically “safe” family oriented place, like a school, a movie theatre, or a mall can become a war zone and killing ground is, tragically, becoming more and more commonplace in our world. Despite the fact that these events seem to get reported on the nightly news with more frequency and even some degree of nonchalance, we should never underestimate the short and long-term impact that they have on children and adults alike. In fact, the standard procedure of repeatedly bombarding us on the Internet and television with graphic imagery of body bags, people running in terror, and collapsing in pain in strangers arms, adds more layers of trauma rather than allowing us to effectively process and transcend it. 

Within the first month of either witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event, we can manifest significant symptoms that are indicative of Acute Stress Disorder. It’s important to know that people who have a prior history of trauma, loss, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or military service may be vulnerable to even greater mental health difficulties. In children and adults, look for the onset of anxiety or increased irritability, a heightened startle response, flashbacks or obsessive rumination about the event, scary or aggressive nightmares, changes in eating habits, and feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. Many people begin to feel more vulnerable and fearful, less trusting of others, and will avoid places or situations that are reminders of the traumatic experience. Others may feel haunted by “survivor guilt,” or berate themselves for the normal survival responses of fight/flight or freeze. 

In all cases, these symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder affect either the quality of personal relationships, workplace or academic performance, physical or mental health. This is why it is so important that anyone who experiences or witnesses trauma receive the support they deserve to compassionately process and work through the experience. No matter how commonplace violence has become in our society, the fundamental threat to our integrity and wellbeing can still evoke painful, even paralyzing thoughts and feelings that deserved to be addressed and healed.

Have you treated clients who’ve experienced Acute Stress Disorder? How have you helped them work their experience?


One thought on "Recent Mall Shooting and Acute Stress Disorder"

  1. Maycon says:

    I have been moved many times over the past year reading your posts and foillwong your journey. This post is so critical for so many going through grief you are never over it. Society (which is us) doesn’t want to acknowledge that the pain of grief cannot be cured’ with a pill or a good sleep. Many years ago I struggled to cope with the violence of my aunt’s murder. In going through a support group with other women (for some reason there were no men in this group) learning about the emotions associated with losing someone to murder, I realized there was no time line. There was someone who lost her friend 20 years ago, someone who lost her fiance and her co-workers expected her to get over it in a month or two, and a woman whose daughter was killed by the daughter’s ex-husband and her husband, the person she most needed to support her, couldn’t because his grief was too great. And they had to relive it all for the trial. My family also must relive my aunt’s death every time there is an appeal or parole hearing. We are not the same, we look at everything differently and react in ways that some don’t understand. Thank you for sharing your personal journey and allowing your followers to learn more about our own grief with you.

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