The recent suicides of two survivors of the Parkland, Florida shooting and the father of a child killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School are drawing attention to the serious problem facing victims and survivors of gun violence—undiagnosed and untreated trauma. Experts say young people who experience a school shooting or who are exposed to gun violence may suffer long-term psychological consequences—including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and survivor’s guilt. Parents and teachers are in a key position to detect some of the warning signs and mental health risk factors that could indicate a young person is in distress or poses a suicide risk.
On February 14, 2018, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida shot and killed 17 classmates and staff and injured 17 others; on December 14, 2012, a 20-year old fatally shot 20 children—between the ages of six and seven years old—and six staff members at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school.
Last month, the principal of Great Mills High School in Maryland, where a shooting incident in March 2018 left one student dead and another injured, acknowledged the lingering impact of trauma. In a letter to parents, he said “We purposefully use the phrase ‘one-year mark’ as we are referencing a tragic time in our school’s history, not celebrating the anniversary of that day.”
A year after the April 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado—which killed 12 students and one teacher and injured 24 others—two student survivors committed suicide.
The director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at the University of Southern California notes that—“there’s a misconception that people who have experienced trauma may only need services for a finite period of time”—underscoring the reality that survivors of traumatic events likely require lifelong treatment and support services.
Anyone experiencing a crisis is encouraged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741. To report immediate threats or emergencies call 911.