By Michael Weinberg, Ph.D.,
Licensed professional counselor
Banner Thunderbird Medical Center
The horrific event in Las Vegas reminds us of fragility of life and how, in just a matter of seconds, we can go from happiness and feelings of joy to fear, anger and profound sorrow. Our future, as we think we know it, vanishes within seconds, leaving us in a state of shock and disbelief.
There is evidence that the damage from mass shootings can go beyond the killing and physical wounding of innocent victims. These incidents also leave a nasty trail of fear that can lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). It can alter how the witnesses or victims of these events view life for years to come. They can have anxiety about being in crowds, going to concerts or community events, nightmares and intruding thoughts that disrupt their daily living.
We have very basic psychological needs that cross all cultures and nationalities. They are:
1) Self esteem and self worth. To be able to feel good about yourself. To believe there is a purpose for your existence.
2) To feel a connection with others or a sense of having love and belonging in your life. It is within our DNA to be a part of and interact with others. To be loved and to love is a vital aspect of the human condition.
3) To have a sense that we are safe. We know that life can be risky and dangerous. We drive in cars knowing we can get into a serious accident. We live in cities knowing crimes occur around us. So we take precautions, such as driving with seat belts, not going into unsafe areas of a city and making sure our doors are locked at night. These few gestures give us some degree of peace of mind.
4) We all need enjoyment or pleasure in our life. Whether it’s going out with friends, attending a sporting event, watching a movie or hiking a mountain, enjoying even the smallest things in life play an integral part of our everyday experience.
These are psychological needs that we all share and, to some extent, each one can be crippled by an event of horror like the one that took place this week in Las Vegas.
Each psychological need can seem unreachable to the individual who is experiencing PTSD. Their sense of worth, the potential loss of a loved one, the assault on their sense of safety and its impact on limiting their ability to enjoy life can together be debilitating.
PTSD is not a sign of weakness. It’s a symptom of a traumatic event that has shaken their sense of wellbeing. It’s a real illness deserving of treatment. If not addressed, PTSD can lead to depression, anxiety and phobic disorders, alcoholism and drug addiction. It can affect relationships, employment, school, health and spirituality.
The good news: with time and, in some cases, counseling, PTSD is treatable. Psychotherapy, especially in a group setting, can be very effective in treating PTSD. It provides them a safe place to share their stories, confront their fears and, eventually, begin the path to recovery.
I’ve seen numerous patients in our hospital’s Intensive Out-Patient (IOP) programs who have suffered from this disorder recover and go on to lead healthy, happy lives.
In the midst of this horrific, tragic and senseless event, let us find the wisdom and courage to reach out to those who are struggling with mental health issues and showing signs of a depression, anxiety or substance abuse.
Be a good listener, accept the seriousness of the pain they may be experiencing and support them in seeking help.
Reporters/editors: Piece submitted for your consideration as a guest column; Dr. Weinberg is available for interviews on this topic as well.