Impact of Mass Shootings on Occupations of Survivors

The impact of a mass shooting on mental health can be significant and long-lasting for survivors. Survivors of mass shootings may experience a range of emotional reactions, such as shock, fear, anxiety, and PTSD. To make things worse, additional mass shooting events can be triggering for these individuals. They may also experience physical symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping or concentrating, and may have trouble returning to their daily routines. Those who were injured or lost loved ones may also experience feelings of guilt or shame which can affect one’s overall quality of life.

Professionals in rehabilitation fields, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing, and psychology, were among those mentioned to support survivors in their newfound lives.

The mental health effects of a mass shooting can be severe and can have a negative impact on a person’s ability to function in their daily life. Survivors may have difficulty returning to work or school, and may have trouble maintaining relationships with friends and family. They may also experience depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.

Mass shootings can also lead to long-term psychological issues. These include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.((Lowe, S. R., & Galea, S. (2017). The mental health consequences of mass shootings. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 18(1), 62-82.)) Some survivors may experience chronic stress, which can lead to physical health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

The mental health effects of a mass shooting can also extend beyond the immediate survivors to the broader community and have a ripple effect. People who were not directly involved in the shooting but who were affected by it, such as first responders, family members of victims, and witnesses, may also experience emotional and psychological distress. The general public likely may be affected as well, but much is still unknown about these broader implications.

To make matters worse, it seems that gun violence has increased over the years and are affected all communities, races, socioeconomic statuses, and pretty much all of America at this point. More Americans died of gun-related injuries in 2020 than in any other year on record, according to recently published statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to Pew Research, this represents a 14% increase from the year before, a 25% increase from five years earlier and a 43% increase from a decade prior.((

The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy published an article that researched the occupational impact of Mass Shootings using a qualitative study of survivor accounts. Themes that emerged from this include:

  • Loss of occupations or independence
  • Reclaiming and “relearning” lost occupations
  • Adopting new occupations
  • Occupational participation as a coping mechanism
  • Contexts and environments facilitate or inhibit occupational participation
  • Change in relationship dynamics
  • Emergence of new performance patterns, and
  • Shift in life narratives.((Ellsworth, A., MacDermott, S., & Scheidler, B. (2022). The Occupational Impact of Mass Shootings: A Qualitative Study of Survivor Accounts. The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy, 10(4), 1-13.

From this research, we can see that some show incredible resilience, while others may have a drastic negative occupational impact. Some feel numb. Others may have physical reactions from negative news on recent mass shootings or flashbacks. Still, the physical scars and loss of a loved one may be reminders of the trauma that has occurred.

I can’t type, I can’t put a bra on, I can’t cut a steak, I can’t drive, I can’t do laundry, I can’t wrap a present, I can’t put my shoes and socks on, I can’t do much walking or standing or sitting. I need help with everything.

Another study found that mass shootings have a strong impact on the emotions of individuals, but the impact is politicized, limited to individuals living within the town or city where the incident occurs, and fades within a week of the incident.((Sharkey, P., & Shen, Y. (2021). The effect of mass shootings on daily emotions is limited by time, geographic proximity, and political affiliation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(23), e2100846118.))

So what is the role of occupational therapy for mass shooting survivors or even those who may have been affected indirectly? Many insights can be gained from the themes of the article by Ellsworth and colleagues. So definitely check it out and share it with your peers and colleagues, lawmakers, and politicians.