Mental Health Issues, Drug Use, Aggression Rise in School-Shooting Survivors

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When the funerals are over, and the TV news crews pack their bags, communities shaken by school shootings are left to carry on as if nothing happened. However, drug abuse, mental health problems and self-harm rates have skyrocketed since last year’s deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl.

The traumatized students are more anxious, depressed, and avoid going to school. Test scores have also suffered, reports Politico.

The phenomenon is confirmed by experts who study the aftermath of mass shootings.

A similar story can be seen in Santa Fe, Tx., where eight students and two teachers were killed last May, and another 10 persons were injured. According to documents obtained by Politico, “a growing number of students need support from mental health professionals, and more police and security officers have been called in to cope with increased student misconduct.”

The documents from Santa Fe High School include details of what happened at the school following the shooting, in an attempt to apply for more aid under a federal program designed to help schools recover from violent incidents, known a Project SERV.

“By the end of the school year that followed the shooting, approximately 60 percent of all students had visited with a counselor experienced in trauma, and the counselors provided more than 3,400 hours of support,” according to a statement from Santa Fe High School officials.

Since the February 2018 shooting that devastated Parkland, which left 17 dead and at least 14 wounded, requests for additional support related to mental, physical, and behavioral problems rose by 78 percent.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas also used be low on the list of high schools in the district battling substance abuse. Now, after the shooting, the school has shot up 20 places on the list.

“Meanwhile, there has been a ‘dramatic decrease’ in the school’s passage rates for English and algebra assessments,” Politico reports.

Laura Wilson, PhD and co-author and editor of The Wiley Handbook of the Psychology of Mass Shootings, is quoted by the American Psychological Association (APA) saying, “Simply by definition, mass shootings are more likely to trigger difficulties with beliefs that most of us have, including that we live in a just world and that if we make good decisions, we’ll be safe.”

The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) estimates that “28 percent of people who have witnessed a mass shooting develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and about a third develop acute stress disorder.”

That stress and fear bottled up can lead to lashing out, which would explain why across the Broward County School district, where Parkland is located, “physical attacks grew from 34 the previous year to 128,” and “threats and intimidation grew to 368 incidents compared to 337 the previous year and tobacco offenses to 439 from 127.”

The months and years after a shooting can be the time when “untreated behavioral health reactions—flashbacks, debilitating anxiety or self-medication—can solidify into mental health or substance use disorders that require more specialized care,” said Karla Vermeulen, PhD and assistant professor of psychology at SUNY New Paltz, who was quoted in the APA report.

The Santa Fe Independent School District’s 2019/2020 request for grant funding says, “We are looking for much-needed outside funding sources to assist in the physical and emotional recovery effort, as well as, planning for future violence prevention and mental/emotional health training and support.”

Melissa Reeves, past president of the National Association of School Psychologists and an associate professor at Winthrop University in South Carolina told Politico, “Personally, I hate the word closure, because I don’t think there ever is closure to anything like this.”

Reeves continued, “You will have individuals that quite honestly within a couple months might be back to a typical day-to-day routine and not showing a whole lot of traumatic impacts…You’ll have other individuals that it could take years of recovery.”

This summary was prepared by Andrea Cipriano, a TCR staff writer.

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