The Mental Toll of School Shootings
The recent news of a shooting in El Paso shows that mass shootings and gun violence still remain a problem in America. The youngest victim was 15 years old, a sophomore in high school.
While news of mass shootings are abhorrent, they’re especially heartbreaking when they occur in schools. The incident at Noblesville West Middle School shows that school shootings are traumatic regardless of how many casualties there are. Schools are meant to be safe spaces for our children to learn and grow as individuals. It doesn’t make sense for us to bid them goodbye every morning knowing that their safety isn’t a given.
Thus, school shootings affect the entire community, but this is especially true for the children. Living through a traumatic experience isn’t easy, which means teachers and parents are left struggling.
The effects it has on our kids
Surviving a school shooting can put your child’s mental health and academic performance in jeopardy. Pacific Standard reports that anxiety and survivor’s guilt are common occurrences, and standardized test scores tend to drop across all levels. In fact, the mental toll of school shootings persists long after the physical wounds have healed. The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) also reports that survivors of mass shootings are 28 percent more likely to develop PTSD.
It’s easy to imagine how these mental effects can affect students’ opportunities later on in life. Maryville University emphasizes that the links between mental health and learning persist throughout life, which means that being mentally sound is integral to succeeding — whether in studies or later at work. Experiencing a school shooting early on can hamper students’ academic prospects. For example, low standardized test scores limits the pool of colleges that students can apply to. The worst-case scenario is that these scores, combined with poor mental health, could even throw the possibility of higher education out of the window entirely.
Since the effects of trauma accumulate over time, students who have experienced trauma prior to a school shooting run the risk of developing even more severe symptoms. This finding makes it difficult for educators to offer the right support that every child needs, as the personal lives of each student isn’t always known.
What can be done?
Coming to terms with the fact that schools aren’t always safe is a difficult adjustment for everyone involved. One of the hardest things about dealing with the aftermath of a school shooting is that communities are never prepared for it.
Psychologist Kathy Wu says that vigilance is of utmost importance for parents and teachers. Paying close attention to how your child’s behavior has changed can help you provide the care your child needs. It’s important to keep communication lines open, as your child’s sense of safety and security is probably at an all-time low.
On that note, schools should look to bring in psychiatrists and counselors who can provide support for the students while training school staff. While support should be made available, it’s also imperative that schools return to their normal routines as soon as possible. Delaying this return keeps the incident at the forefront of students’ minds, which could then exacerbate their problems.
School shootings are a very possible reality. This is one of the saddest facts about today’s world, but it also means that we have to understand how to deal with its aftermath, the mental toll of school shootings. Most parents and teachers would be hard-pressed to say that they’re ready for such an event, as the thought of a school shooting is enough to induce bouts of anxiety in anyone. Accepting it as a potential reality and knowing the problems you’ll have to face beforehand can help parents and teachers move through this situation in case it does happen.
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