Making Sense of the Senseless Violence
By Dennis Thompson
THURSDAY, Dec. 3, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Mass shootings and the accompanying carnage have now become a regular part of life in America. And mental health experts warn that this steady drumbeat of violence could have major consequences for the nation’s psyche.
There have been 355 mass shootings in the United States so far this year — defined as incidents in which four or more victims were shot, though not necessarily killed, according to ShootingTracker.com, a crowd-sourced website that monitors U.S. gun violence.
That amounts to more mass shootings than days passed this year, far more than any other nation on Earth. And most of these horrific episodes fail to make national headlines.
For example, Wednesday’s bloodbath in San Bernardino, Calif., that left 14 people dead and 21 wounded occurred just hours after a shooting in Savannah, Ga., in which four people were shot and one died.
But the psychological impact is starting to take a measurable toll, experts say.
“I think people are becoming more aware that these things are happening much more frequently,” said Russell Jones, a professor of psychology and director of the Stress and Coping Lab at Virginia Tech, the college that in 2007 experienced a mass shooting that left 32 dead and 17 wounded.
“The nation is going to become more anxious and more fearful and more uncertain as this goes on. It has a cascading effect,” he added.
On 20 separate days this year, there were at least four mass shootings somewhere in the nation. Acts of violence have become so common that people now know many of them by name — Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine.
Many Americans have been left numb by the violence, and that’s a normal human reaction, said Jonathan Alpert, a New York City psychotherapist and author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.”
“That’s how we protect ourselves from trauma,” Alpert said. “We put up defenses. We put up barriers. We disconnect.”
Some people will go into denial — desensitized by the brutality. But, many others will become emotionally overwhelmed by the gun violence, said Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, Calif.