After Aurora, Expect PTSD to Spread Far Beyond Theater
Two studies of Virginia Tech students provide information on the likelihood and treatment of stress-related psychological symptoms following a mass shooting.
Like all such tragedies, the mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater will claim more victims than is immediately apparent. In the coming weeks and months, many people who were somehow involved in the event but physically unhurt will find themselves experiencing the sometimes debilitating symptoms of PTSD.
Who will experience this psychological trauma, and what’s the best way to help them? A pair of recently published studies examining the aftermath of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, which claimed 32 lives, offer some clues.
A team of researchers led by Virginia Tech’s Michael Hughes surveyed 4,639 of the school’s students three to four months after the tragedy. The researchers found 15.4 percent were experiencing high levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms (which can include flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, agitation or emotional detachment).
Those with the highest odds of experiencing PTSD symptoms were students who knew someone who was killed or injured in the attack, along with those who were unable “to confirm the safety of friends” as the events unfolded.
The latter finding “highlights the important role of extended periods of worry and fear over the safety of others,” the researchers write in the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy. “This finding has important implications for the content of post-event screening and intervention.