Traumatic memories are stored within the brain as iconic images, meaning that they are non-verbal and have no time sequence. Therefore, any time the memory is triggered, it feels as though the trauma is happening again in the present. Trauma memories can be healed by reframing them differently and understanding them as in the past, but that often takes therapy and always takes time.
As a Psychologist who was certified to work with children, I am well aware that when traumatized the memory of the event(s) lingers. We see that in sexualized and/or abused children, there are often recurring problems or behavior. As a society we accept that as true. But what about children exposed to gun violence? That is rarely discussed once the horrendous event is over. We cry out, “how horrible” and then for some reason, we expect the situation to be over and all will be well. As a society, we do not propose any long-term solutions beyond metal detectors and guards in schools and government buildings.
Yesterday, the news announced that two young people who attended Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida at the time of last year’s shooting have suicided. One, a 2018 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School died by suicide last week. This week, a present Stoneman Douglas Student has apparently suicided. Listen to a quote from a father of a murdered student: “Unfortunately, what we’ve learned is that the survivors of a traumatic event like a school shooting carry with them a lot of guilt, anxiety, pressures, depression…”
After hearing the news about these two young people, I googled both Columbine and Sandy Hook. The stories of trauma, impairment, underachievement, continued depression, suicide, etc. abound. These events of horrendous gun violence have also affected families beyond those who suffered the loss or witnessed the horror. The gun violence situation is truly a national crisis. While Columbine was in 1999 and Sandy Hook was in 2012, the United States has recorded 40 mass shootings in the last couple of years (2017-2019) list of US mass shootings Of course, not all of the violence occurred at schools, rather, the shootings have also occurred in mosques, in churches, in movie theaters, in malls, and in work places.
Why are the voices of the victims and the activists still unheard? How can we continue to ignore the legacy of post-traumatic stress which affects and may reshape our social order? There are still those who will defend a human right to bear arms; those who will bemoan the mystery of mental illness as if it was the single cause of the massacres; those who will blame only the shooter. Collectively, we are not listening as the Parkland students say, “am I next?”
It is time for people of all faiths and those with no faith to unite to effect social change. Gun violence is a human crisis. Steps must be taken to bring peace to violence. This is not a time for division and contention, rather it is a time for dialogue and understanding. Reasonable and safe gun legislation is a necessity. It is time to assess our values as a country and to legislate accordingly. We are reminded: Blessed are the Peacemakers…
Karen Rossman, OP