Helping, Healing and Hope: Common Reactions to Mass Casualty Events

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This week our nation mourns the tragic aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre, the worse mass shooting in U.S. history. As of this writing, 59 concertgoers lost their lives, and more than 500 were injured. In total, 22,000 attendees left the venue in terror or risked themselves to assist others. Just one step removed, their grief will be shared in the coming days by hundreds of thousands who will know someone personally who was there. Beyond this group, are the millions of us who were glued to our televisions when the news broke and wept with those who shared their eyewitness accounts and stories of personal loss. Many felt a degree of their anxiety and sadness, even though we may have been thousands of miles away, or knew no one present.

These growing incidents of mass domestic violence frighten, sadden and shock us. As psychologists explain, they shatter our sense of a “just world,” the belief that if we are careful, good and kind, we will be safe. And, we can easily relate to at least one or more of the victims—a teacher, a Disney employee, a policeman, a nurse, and we think, “I could have been at that concert too.”

Can there be a “normal reaction” to such a horrendous event?

Mass shooting research and response informs us that at least a third of those who attended the Las Vegas concert will need counseling. Some may benefit from psychiatric help as well. A testimony to the resiliency of the human spirit, others will experience a short period of acute distress over a few days, but will not exhibit ongoing, debilitating stress symptoms or PTSD that would signal the need for ongoing mental health treatment.

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