Friday, April 19, 2024

Survivor’s guilt haunts nation

There have been 1,995 mass shootings in the United States since the Sandy Hook school shooting took place on Dec. 14, 2012. 

Families across the country have been forced to come to terms with the 2,280 killed and 8,304 people wounded. 

It’s hard to swallow that number but as shootings continue to take place across the United States and in other countries, citizens are forced to come terms with the fact that more and more people are becoming victims of these senseless acts. 

This year, during the weekend of March 16, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor and graduate Sydney Aiello took her own life. 

A week later it was confirmed that another survivor of the tragic shooting had also taken their life. 

During the morning of March 25, Jeremy Richman, the father of Sandy Hook victim Avielle, took his own life. 

It’s clear: Everyone is a victim, direct or indirect, when shootings take place. 

Aiello’s mother, Cara Aiello, has said that her daughter suffered from survivor’s guilt and had recently been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

In an interview with CBS Miami, she said that her daughter had struggled to attend college classes due to fear of being in a classroom. 

Survivor’s guilt, or survivor syndrome, is considered a significant symptom of PTSD by the American Psychiatric Association and is defined as, “a mental condition that occurs when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not, often feeling self-guilt.” 

The underlying effects, aftermath and trauma of seeing close friends being killed in a supposedly safe environment of a school had clearly shaped Sydney’s life after. 

Jeremy Richman and his wife, Jennifer Hensel, were just one of the families who had sued conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for his claims that the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax. 

The New York Times reported the lawsuit filed by the family stated, “that Mr. Jones embarked on a campaign of abusive and outrageous false statements in which Jones and the other defendants have developed, amplified and perpetuated claims that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged and that the 26 families who lost loved ones that day are paid actors who faked their relatives’ deaths.” 

In the aftermath of the shooting, Richman and Hensel established the Avielle Foundation, which advocates for research that studies the brain to find signs of violent behavior, mental health education and compassion. 

The three suicides connected to two of America’s most notable shootings reflect the increasing statistic of suicide in the country. 

The CDC reports an increase of suicide rates by 33% between 1999 and 2017. 

Teens who contemplate suicide rose by 25% between 2009 and 2017 and deaths by suicide for teens increased 25% for the same timespan. 

The truth is in the numbers. 

Gun violence becomes more rampant with an absence of significant gun laws. 

It is inevitable that more people connected to the epidemic of violence will take their lives.  

Strong gun laws don’t just protect people from being murdered, it protects us all from the trauma and aftermath of these horrific images. 

It has become a running line in the days that follow shootings for people to denounce the statement, “thoughts and prayers,” that typically comes from elected officials. Many see it as a cop-out from efforts to pass legitimate gun regulations like bans on semi-automatic weapons and increased background checks. It would be assumed that in the aftermath of a tragedy or major event, steps to change would follow. 

The response by New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shooting on March 15 follows that model. In a swift movement, New Zealand announced plans to ban semi-automatic weapons. The legislation is currently moving through the government with hopes to have it in place by April 11. 

The harm of gun violence doesn’t only touch those who have lives taken from them but it touches their families, friends, teachers, partners and anyone who knew them. Concrete legislation that would ban semi-automatic weapons and increase background checks doesn’t only protect potential victims in schools, malls, houses of worship and other public spaces. It protects us all from the never-ending reality of trauma and loss. It is important to acknowledge both. 

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