Many Americans are living with 'larger psychic trauma' from the wave of mass shootings — creating increased anxiety and false panic in public spaces, expert says
- False reports of a shooter in public spaces have resulted in stampedes in recent weeks.
- A stampede occurred recently at a festival in Vegas, a boxing match in Brooklyn, and a rally in DC.
The US is becoming a "traumatized society" amid a string of mass shootings, according to a gun violence expert.
Over 18,800 people have died due to gun violence overall this year, according to the organization.
Jonathan Metzl, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University, told Insider he thinks the US has "PTSD as a nation."
"The ripples of trauma just extend so much further than just the data we have, which is just who gets shot," Metzl said.
And in recent weeks, there has been panic at public gatherings ignited by false alerts of an active shooter in the vicinity.
In May, chaos ensued in Las Vegas, Nevada during the Lovers and Friends Festival after false reports of gunfire. Videos obtained by local news show the crowd running resulting in people getting trampled, with one person describing the scene as "a human sinkhole."
Days later, a stampede occurred during a boxing match in Brooklyn after the crowd heard a loud noise outside. Tennis star Naomi Osaka, who was at the event, tweeted in May "we were being yelled at that there was an active shooter and we had to huddle in a room and close the doors, I was so fucking petrified man."
—Ryan Songalia (@ryansongalia) May 29, 2022
At a March for Lives rally in Washington, DC, earlier this month, people scrambled after a man claimed that he had a gun. An activist at the scene said the scare left participants "petrified of what was going on, while not having any indication of what was happening," Insider previously reported.
"When people are traumatized, they have what's called an 'exaggerated startle response'," Metzl said, referring to the false alarm at the DC rally. "We are really a traumatized society."
Recent research shows that a third of US adults worry about possible mass shootings in public spaces
Several mass shootings have occurred in settings where people presume safety, much like the supermarket in Buffalo, New York, where a white gunman targeted a predominantly Black neighborhood, or in an elementary school — most recently in Uvalde, Texas.
"What we don't talk about is just the larger psychic trauma that is facing our entire country because places that should feel safe — places where we congregate to enjoy one another, experience one another, like concerts or movies or schools or places of worship — they become potential places of carnage," Metzl said.
A 2019 survey on stress and mass shootings conducted by the American Psychological Association following the incidents in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, found that a third of adults decline to go to specific places or events due to fear of being a casualty in a shooting.
The survey indicated that individuals expressed concern about a possible mass shooting in a public space, such as a movie theater, educational institution, or mall.
"The more these events happen in places where people can see themselves frequenting, the greater the mental health impact will be," Arthur C. Evans Jr., the head of the APA said in a statement at the time.
Metzl said that the growing anxiety amongst Americans may get worse as time goes on.
"It's like no community is untouched; conservatives at a country music concert, Republican politicians at a softball game," he said, referring to the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting and the June 2017 shooting in which a gunman targeted GOP lawmakers during a baseball practice session.
"I guess the initial thought was when this touched more people's lives, we would come together to do something about it, but that doesn't seem to be the case."
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