Even many days later, there’s still some bit of news regarding the Las Vegas shooting. And I hope there would be, as awful as it was. The more we talk, the greater potential we have for actually putting words to action. A hopeful thought, but I’d like to think it isn’t too unrealistic.
Even after the news dies down and we’re onto the next big current event, the memory of this shooting won’t fade entirely. For many, it will pound at the psyche for years.
We often associate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with veterans coming back from war. Men and women who cannot sleep without replaying horrific flashbacks or fear loud noises. And yes, this mental battle is one we actually need to fight, one much greater than physical warfare.
But PTSD affects many more people than we might realize. In the United States alone, we see over 3 million cases of PTSD per year. After a traumatic event, many people simply take a few weeks to return to normal functioning, but for others, symptoms persist that prevent someone from moving on to live a full life. An endless scenario that refuses to pass.
Symptoms generally vary among those affected, but they fall into four main categories: intrusive thoughts, avoidance, negative changes in mood, and negative changes in physical and emotional reactions.
The first two criteria are what we commonly associate with PTSD, the sleepless nights, the avoidance of loud places. But there’s so much more involved, a complex web of emotional scarring. Symptoms can resemble depression, feeling disinterested in life and disconnecting from loved ones. You can become more irritable, more reckless, more numb.
The plethora of forms PTSD can take make it that much more difficult to understand and define. But welcome to the world that is mental health. We want to pigeonhole the typical appearance we expect from mental illness and anything that doesn’t fit into the mold is disregarded.
PTSD fits into no mold, but melds into any situation how it sees fit. It can lead to or be worsened by depression, anxiety, or addiction. Pinpointing where one diagnosis ends and another begins is like opening Pandora’s box, one we’d much rather leave shut.
But for Las Vegas, we have hundreds of people at risk. The immediate need to understand and treat PTSD requires us to gain awareness about its diverse role in mental health. What the shooter probably didn’t intend when he aimed at the concert crowd was the continuous shots fired for so many long after the violence ceased.
We should use this opportunity to not only help those affected by Las Vegas, but anybody we might have overlooked based on a stereotypical image of PTSD. More common triggers for PTSD are warfare and physical and sexual abuse, but many other traumatic events also can lead to PTSD, such as fire, natural disaster, mugging, robbery, plane crash, torture, kidnapping, life-threatening medical diagnosis, terrorist attack, and other extreme or life-threatening events. Just to name a few.
Just because you might not exude the typical symptoms of PTSD doesn’t mean your mental turmoil and emotions aren’t valid. You still deserve help and support. And you deserve to live a full life. When we deny and downplay others’ feelings, we devalue their experiences. We force these people back into roles they didn’t choose for themselves: victims, bystanders, broken people.
While it’d be great to see action on a political front to prevent future terrorist acts like Las Vegas, how we react in the meantime matters. Our immediate outreach for those involved was so inspiring to witness, but that support shouldn’t stop when we’re onto something new in the world. What is a passing headline for some is a life-altering sore in many people’s minds.
We need to encourage therapy and clinical support for those who need it, now or in years’ time. We need to expand our definition of what PTSD is and what it “should” be. It’s a very real and scary condition, but one that can be treated and diminish. With its ties to neurological reactions, PTSD’s vicious cycle can be broken.
We are not victims, regardless of what our thoughts might convince us, regardless of our individual experiences. For ourselves and others, health is a priority. Be willing to listen, to reach out, to seek opportunities you need even if others might not understand.
You are not alone. And for everyone in Las Vegas and anyone who might be fighting mental battles, we are here for you.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie