The Mental Toll Of Mass Shootings

Photo by Maria Lysenko on Unsplash

On my way home from the vet with my puppy today, I saw approximately 12 police vehicles, both marked and unmarked, flying up the northbound lanes of the highway I was on, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Then I saw another police vehicle accompanying a tactical, SWAT type armored vehicle behind the first group of law enforcement vehicles. I didn’t know where they were heading or why, whether it was an actual response to a dramatic, violent situation or maybe a part of some training exercise. My immediate thought, though, was school shooting. Then I thought of other locations in the direction they were headed and determined it could be a shooting at a mall or a grocery store or maybe a hospital. We don’t know what location will be next. What surprised me about that sighting is that I instantly went into a PTSD-type response. My heart started racing, my stomach became nervous, and my eyes teared up. I said a little prayer for whomever was on the receiving end of that response. So commonplace are mass shootings these days, my brain had no place else to go with what I had just seen. In gun-crazy Colorado where we’ve already suffered losses in our communities at Columbine High School, Arapahoe High School, STEM High school, an Aurora movie theater, and a Boulder King Soopers grocery store, I suppose my response is not all that shocking. We’ve lived this over and over in our home.

While my response did not shock me, it did disappoint me. Not because I was upset with myself for reacting, but because the reaction came so easily. Why wouldn’t I land in that dark place? This is our reality. Guns are a huge deal here, easy to purchase, easy to carry. And this, in and of itself, isn’t a problem. But when you combine the number of guns out there with the number of people who have mental health issues or anger issues or who are struggling financially or who are all triggered over politics or conspiracy theories or who are simply overwrought because we’re in a pandemic that feels it will never end, it feels like our nation is a potential tinderbox.

I never did see anything on the news about what was going on with all those police cars this morning, so that is a relief. It must have been nothing of immediate consequence. Still, I really wish we didn’t share the collective memories of school children being evacuated from a shooting scene or tactical vehicles parked in front of active shooter spree at a grocery store. I wish I didn’t feel like every day is another day when senseless gun violence may erupt. And I wish that every time I saw police cars rushing off somewhere in multiples, lights flashing, I didn’t automatically assume it was because some unhinged person decided to release some of their mental stress through the barrel of a gun.


  1. The cumulative trauma of shootings is awful for all of us. The shootings are too much. Thank you for expressing this for all of us.

    1. My oldest son still doesn’t like to see movies in theaters after the Aurora shooting. The percentage of Gen Z kids with anxiety disorders and depression speaks to the culture we have created and done nothing to curb.

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