As of May 2022, 231 mass shootings have occurred in the United States, resulting in 256 deaths and 1,006 injuries (Gun Violence Archive [GVA], 2022). The increasing prevalence of mass shootings and media coverage may prompt many individuals to experience increased anxiety or fear in public settings. The recent Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas was the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012 (EducationWeek, 2022), and this year, followed by the supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York (GVA, 2022). While many mass shootings are motivated by biases towards specific groups, some do not appear to have a clear motive. The lack of a clear motive provokes multiple questions, such as how to prevent future mass shootings and what circumstances cause an individual to engage in mass shootings? The lack of clear motives prompts the discussion regarding the cause and how to prevent this reoccurring problem.
News media frequently blames mental illness as the only plausible cause for individuals to commit these horrific acts of violence, also they lack the evidence to support their claim (Skeem & Mulvey, 2020). This unproven claim increases the stigma against mental health and may discourage individuals from obtaining treatment. Research by Brucato et al. (2021) observed that only 8% of international mass shooters had a serious mental illness. United States mass shooters reported criminal histories, substance abuse, and difficulty coping with life stressors, highlighting the significance of providing accessible healthcare.
Witnessing or being injured in a mass shooting is extremely traumatic and can produce long-term emotional and physical consequences for the individual. While some individuals confide in friends and family for support, however, some survivors purposely avoid discussing it with their support system in attempt to avoid burdening them (Felix et al., 2021). Although students may receive trauma-informed care immediately after a shooting and is not likely to resolve all their trauma-related symptoms. Trauma-related symptoms can interfere with the individual’s ability to function and care for themselves. Students are not provided long-term mental health care, leaving many individuals without treatment for their lingering symptoms. The American Counseling Association can provide support and has bilingual crisis counselors available 24/7 for individuals experiencing natural or human-caused disasters. Their services are available by text and phone.
When a shooting occurs, services vary, as schools tend to depend on mental health services available in the community. The two students that committed suicide that witnessed the Parkland shooting demonstrate how costly a lack of resources can be for the community. This sentiment of inadequate care has been echoed by other gun violence survivors, with less than half reporting access to support or services within the first 6 months-1 year after the trauma (Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, 2022). The Everytown Support Fund provides resources for victims and parents regarding how to talk to their children about gun violence. The resources available for victims include information about what to expect from the recovery process, discusses the significance of self-care, and how to identify symptoms of emotional and physical trauma. Their services are available by text and phone. Resources to assist survivors with financial costs include the Victim Connect Resource Center which provides information on crime victim compensation, and the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards provides information regarding each state’s compensation programs available and the procedures.
Preventative approaches have proven to be more effective at reducing gun violence compared to reactive approaches (Kolbe, 2020). Revising the health care system so mental health services are accessible and available is beneficial, as more individuals in need of care will have access to it. The shortage of psychiatrists and mental health providers also presents a challenge regarding obtaining care. However, implementing these changes would be beneficial as fifty-six percent of mass shooters exhibited at least one warning sign before the shooting occurred (Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, 2020), and may be noticed when obtaining mental health services. Increasing the number of school counselors is important, as the ratio of school counselors to students is not nearly adequate to provide adequate care.
Implementing educational trainings to instructors and students regarding high-risk behaviors associated with gun violence may prove as beneficial. Trainings discussing the impacts of bullying, dangers of substance abuse (Brucato et al., 2021), managing anger (Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, 2020), and diversity training would be valuable for students, as they have been linked to gun violence. Diversity training is essential to reduce discrimination and prejudice, a common driving force for perpetrating gun violence. Trainings for educators could discuss the consequences of pressuring males to conform to masculine norms, which has been linked to extreme behavior such as gun violence (Levant, 2022).
The trauma-informed practices implemented in schools to assist employees and students after a shooting have been criticized for their effectiveness (Alexander & Harris, 2020). Trauma-informed care seeks to identify and alleviate trauma while providing care that avoids re-traumatization. Providing support to the employees is just as important as providing care to the students after a trauma. A criticism of this practice is that many are facilitated by the teachers and staff, which may be re-traumatizing for the staff when presenting it to students (Alexander, 2021). Re-traumatizing the staff and teachers can exasperate their symptoms and should be taught by facilitators other than employees from the school. Additionally, trauma-related services should be available for survivors of public shootings as well, not just school shootings. Eliminating the stigma associated with mental health and the assumption that the shooter has a mental illness would be beneficial for society. Individuals would be more likely to obtain and be compliant with treatment. Extending care to not only the survivors, but their families, and the community is also essential for the healing process.
**Contact information for the sites referenced in the article listed below:
Everytown Support Fund
Available 24/7 for individuals experiencing distress resulting from natural of human-caused disasters.
Toll-free & multilingual
Alexander, B. (2021). Public school trauma intervention for school shootings: A national survey of school leaders. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(15), 7727. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18157727
Alexander, B. A., & Harris, H. (2020). Public school preparedness for school shootings: A phenomenological overview of school staff perspectives. School Mental Health, 12(3), 595–609. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-020-09369-8
Brucato, G., Appelbaum, P. S., Hesson, H., Shea, E. A., Dishy, G., Lee, K., … Girgis, R. R. (2021). Psychotic symptoms in mass shootings v. mass murders not involving firearms: Findings from the Columbia mass murder database. Psychological Medicine, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0033291721000076
EducationWeek. (2022, May 25). School shootings this year: How many and where. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/school-shootings-this-year-how-many-and-where/2022/01
Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (2020, November 21). Twelve years of mass shootings in the United States: An Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund analysis. https://everytownresearch.org/maps/mass-shootings-in-america/#:~:text=Mass%20shootings%20result%20in%20an,not%20yet%20available%20for%202018
Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. (2022, February 3). When the shooting stops: The impact of gun violence on survivors in America. https://everytownresearch.org/report/the-impact-of-gun-violence-on-survivors-in-america/
Felix, E. D., Moore, S. A., Meskunas, H., & Terzieva, A. (2017). Social and contextual influences on mental health following an episode of mass violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(3-4), 1544–1567. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260517742915
Gun Violence Archive. (2022, May 30). Gun violence archive 2022. https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/
Kolbe, L. J. (2020). School gun violence in the United States. Journal of School Health, 90(3), 245-253. https://doi.org/10.1111/josh.12866
Levant, R. F. (2022). Extending the gender role strain paradigm to account for U.S. males’ gun violence. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 23(2), 151–159. https://doi.org/10.1037/men0000385
Skeem, J., & Mulvey, E. (2019). What role does serious mental illness play in mass shootings, and how should we address it? Criminology & Public Policy, 19(1), 85–108. https://doi.org/10.1111/1745-9133.12473
In the case of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, there are many allegations of physical and verbal abuse. After their divorce, Amber made claims that Johnny had abused her throughout their marriage and won a court case against him in the U.K. However, this year, evidence emerged that Amber admitted to hitting Johnny and having anger issues. According to a male trauma expert, almost all men never state that they’ve been abused. With Johnny and Amber, we can never know what really happened between them. But, if we believe her, then we must also believe him when he says that he was abused.
Johnny and Amber’s case is important because it represents the stigma men face when seeking help. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, there is a harmful gender stereotype where men are taught to “act tough” and never admit anything has happened to them. Especially with sexual assault, men are extremely less likely to report being assaulted. Terry Crews is one example of a man who shocked the country when he revealed he was sexually assaulted. This really brought into light the seriousness of this issue and the lack of support men have when dealing with this trauma. Terry was fortunate enough to have a strong platform to share his experiences. However, many are not as lucky, and end up having their voices ignored. It’s important that if someone we know opens up about their experience, we should never ignore or minimize their situation.
Because there is a lack of reporting among the male population, they are extremely underrepresented in statistics about mental health. The stats are so skewed that many believe that depression and trauma are purely a female phenomenon. It’s important to understand that men are just as likely to go through traumatic experiences. Additionally, abuse is not always about physical strength. Many think, “Well how can a woman harm a man when he’s stronger than her and could just push her away?” Anyone who is abused can get gravely injured regardless of gender and strength. There are many other variables that need to be considered when dealing with these cases. We as a society should always consider both the female and male perspective equally.
In recent events, 30-year-old Angelo Quinto passed away after an altercation with Antioch police. Angelo’s sister had initially called because he was acting aggressively towards their mother. He was going through a mental health crisis. The cause of death was determined to be due to excited delirium, acute drug toxicity, and arrest-related physical exertion. The reason why his death is so controversial is because a lot of people have compared it to the death of George Floyd. Similarly, both George Floyd and Angelo Quinto died by an officer using excessive force onto them while being handcuffed.
These kinds of deaths indicate the necessity for every police department to provide more training in de-escalation methods to all police officers, independent for how long they have been in the force. As written in the Associated Press (2021)‘…a little reassessment, a little de-escalation, reconsideration of where you are and who was involved.” While it may not be as easy as a “little of something” it is clear that in the past police officers who were not trained to deal with mental health issues or recognize them, using physical force is the most common response. According to the Quinto’s attorney, the officers involved failed to de-escalate the situation by talking with Angelo, who was never combative (Associated Press, 2021). It was also noted that the officers falsely told paramedics that Angelo was on methamphetamine and ransacked the family’s home without any evidence that claim.
In multiple videos that had surfaced online, the sister emphasizes how she only called the police to have assistance in calming down her brother. By the time that the officers arrived, Angelo was being cooperative. In her opinion there was no need for them to use excessive force like they did. HIS emphasize that “without specialized training; never consider the use of physical force as your first response” (HSI, n.d.). Which highlights the importance to talk about these issues and to demand that appropriate training is provided to all first responders, not just the police department. I think it’s safe to say that the police department needs to reassess the type of training they give officers when handling a situation with someone that is struggling with any type of mental health issue.
Mehari et al. (2021) conducted a study on 98 police officers that attended a workshop on de-escalating situations with trauma-exposed youth. The results showed that the training was well received and that workshops like these can lead to a decrease in the use of force in interactions with adolescents. With having workshops or training available to the police officers, they can increase their knowledge in how to de-escalate situations in their field. Calm, assess, facilitate is described by Michele Saunders (n.d) as the three most essential de-escalation techniques. Further, she explains, “Calm: to decrease the emotional, behavioral, and mental intensity of a situation. Assess: to determine the most appropriate response as presented by the facts, and Facilitate: to promote the most appropriate resolution based on an assessment of the facts presented.” These techniques such as building hope, presenting oneself as calm, and not to get personally attacked can and will change the outcome of a situation in which mental health issues are treated usually first with force.
Moreover, it is suggested that training that involves the acquisition of communication and active listening skills is an effective intervention tool that not only helps individuals who are in crisis but also reduces police liability and injury (Olivia, Morgan & Compton, 2010). De-escalation techniques are not only a way for officers to minimize the need for using physical force when it comes to intense situations, but also a way to lessen that gap of trust between police officers and civilians. Due to deaths like Angelo Quinto’s, there is not much trust that civilians can put into the police officers that are supposed to be protecting them. I am hopeful that with all the controversy surrounding police brutality in recent years that there will be more opportunities to have better and more effective training for police officers to handle mental health crises. Things are going to have to change sooner rather than later with the community putting more emphasis on the way the police department handles these types of situations.