Hundreds of people were caught in the crossfire during the July 7 shooting that killed five police officers in Dallas, wounded several others and sent crowds screaming and running for safety. The massacre took place near the end of a march protesting police shootings of black men. Those who survived the attack may face the ripple effects of trauma, from short-term stress to long-term anxiety disorders, reports the Dallas Morning News.. Mental health officials are reaching out to offer support and counseling to these people who were exposed to the kind of violence normally associated with war zones.
Dr. Carol North, professor of psychiatry at University of Texas Southwestern, is an expert on on how people react to mass shootings. She’s studied thousands of victims of more than a dozen disasters. Nearly everyone exposed to the level of violence seen in the Dallas ambush will be affected to one degree or another; some might develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, a serious condition, but treatable. Fewer than 1 in 5 people exposed to a traumatic event will develop PTSD, but many will experience symptoms for a short time. These include hyperarousal, or jumpiness; nightmares; sleeplessness; persistent thoughts and avoidance of places that cause anxiety. PTSD is diagnosed only when symptoms continue for a month or longer. In studies of people exposed to the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, nearly all had one or more symptoms of PTSD, but only about a third developed PTSD. In mass shootings she has studied, the rates of those exposed to the event who developed PTSD were a bit under 20 percent. “Our data shows that almost everybody who is exposed to one of these horrible, traumatic events gets upset,’’ North said. It’s less common for people to report feeling emotionally numb or overwhelmed with anxiety and wanting to avoid places that trigger reminders of the trauma. Such “numbing and avoidance” symptoms are a strong indicator of PTSD, she said.