Most of us woke up to the heartbreaking news of another mass shooting, this time on the Las Vegas Strip. At least 58 people were killed and more than 500 injured when a gunman opened fire on a country music festival.
As Floridians, we can’t help but be reminded of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, where 49 people were killed and dozens wounded in 2016.
News of mass shootings like these can provoke intense feelings of fear, sadness, uncertainty and helplessness – no matter where we live or how close we were to the event. In fact, people exposed to a steady stream of news coverage in the aftermath of a crisis can even develop symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.
We spoke with Dr. Peter Paythal Ganpat, in-patient psychiatrist at Florida Hospital, for advice on how to best handle grief in the face of tragedy.
What are some of the ways people can be affected by events like mass shootings, even from afar?
Our local community here can be expected to feel anxious; who’s to say something like this couldn’t happen at one of our theme parks?
My experience is that people can develop immense anxiety from events like this. They can start having fears and stop wanting to do things that might expose them or make them feel vulnerable.
It seems like it can really shake a person’s sense of security.
Absolutely. For the average citizen, it can make it difficult to go about living your life.
What advice do you have for people to help manage their grief around this tragedy?
It’s hard not to turn on the TV right now, but my number one piece of advice is to continue living your life the way you already are. You almost have to turn a blind eye to it or you’ll end up living in fear. And a life lived in constant fear is not worth living.
My second piece of advice is to practice healthy, positive thinking. Surrounding yourself with positive people is the best way to traverse this. It’s how we pull ourselves through these tough times.
What should people do if they feel they are being overcome by grief or trauma?
A [mass shooting] has never happened to this magnitude, so if you are feeling like it is affecting you more than it should, you should probably seek help.
Especially in Orlando, where we had a similar event a year ago, victims [of the Pulse Nightclub shooting] may be having flashbacks. We extend ourselves to the community to be of assistance if they are having issues.
What signs of trauma should people look for in themselves?
Avoidance behaviors, nightmares, constant worrying and feeling on edge – even at places like the grocery store.
For some individuals who experienced the tragedy here in Orlando, this is essentially a recurrence, so posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms can certainly arise.
When your day-to-day life is altered as a result of this to the point that you become dysfunctional, you should seek help from a psychiatrist or therapist. It’s wise to be proactive about this situation than just to sit on it.
Are there any signs of trauma or grief that parents should look for in their children?
Yes, children present very differently than adults. Kids tend to have big somatic complaints, such as tummy aches that don’t necessarily make sense, not wanting to go to school and development of separation anxiety.
Really any deviation from their baseline behavior is something to keep an eye out for.
If you or a loved one is having difficulty coping with recent tragedies, it’s important to reach out for help. Call us at (855) 303-DOCS for information about Florida Hospital’s behavioral health services.