Accidentally killing someone can lead to PTSD, addiction, and even suicidal thoughts, yet there's minimal support for people in this position

Accidentally killing someone can lead to PTSD, addiction, and even suicidal thoughts, yet there's minimal support for people in this position
There is little to no resources for someone who has caused an accidental death. aydinmutlu/Getty Images
  • Causing a death can lead to severe mental health issues, including PTSD and self-harm.
  • Accidental killers may struggle to find support due to a lack of research or resources, experts say.

Actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins while filming his upcoming movie "Rust" on October 21. In doing so, he joins a small group of people known as accidental killers or CADIs - Causing Accidental Death or Injury.

The impact on someone who has caused the death of another is likely to be massive, leading to a tidal wave of self-blame and even self-harm. Four people spoke to Insider's Anna Medaris Miller and Erin Snodgrass about their own experiences of becoming accidental killers. They were all haunted by what happened.

"A day doesn't go by for accidental killers where we don't think about the life we took," a CADI named Chris Yaw, who felt responsible for the death of a man who got crushed under his garage-door opener, told Miller and Snodgrass.

Despite the long-term mental health impact, there aren't many resources available for people who find themselves in this position. Few therapists list it as a specialty. Medaris Miller and Snodgrass reported that there are seemingly no self-help books about CADIs, and the databases available only track accidental deaths, not people who have caused them.

Psychologists spoke to Insider about the mental health burden faced by accidental killers and what they can do to move forward.


There's minimal research on and resources for accidental killers

Rachel Cavallaro is a licensed psychologist who works with mental health service provider Thriveworks in Boston and specializes in trauma, depression, and addiction. She told Insider the research around people who cause deaths is sparse, and usually relates to veterans in combat. As for accidental killings specifically, there is basically no research at all.

She said the symptoms of PTSD an accidental killer may experience include intrusive and distressing memories, nightmares, and flashbacks. They are also likely to be more jumpy than usual due to an exaggerated startle response and may have trouble remembering details of what happened. It's probably going to be a turbulent time, with many intense emotions, such as guilt, shame, self-loathing, and horror, Cavallaro said, but some may also have a lack of any emotion whatsoever, and feel completely numb.

Detachment from friends and family, self-blame, and negative beliefs about themselves such as, "I am bad," " I am unforgivable," "I don't deserve to live," are also common, Cavallaro said.

Therapist and coach to actors, musicians, and elite athletes Cathy Spaas told Insider intense media scrutiny can exacerbate the problems people face. For Baldwin, the incident dominated the news cycle for several days, with people commenting on every aspect of the story as information unfolded.

Social media reinforces the bias of our brains, Spaas said. "If you believe you're a bad person, you're reading that you've done something wrong, your brain is going to zoom in on those messages and amplify them," she explained.

Accidentally killing someone can lead to PTSD, addiction, and even suicidal thoughts, yet there's minimal support for people in this position
Alec Baldwin fatally shot a member of the crew on a movie set last week. Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Short-term effects from the shock often lead to longer-term ones, experts say, and the impact can quickly become devastating, especially if people feel they have nowhere to turn.

CADIs told Insider they felt burdened by how much pain they were feeling, causing them to stop reaching out to people. One woman said she moved 13 times in the year after her accident to try and escape what had happened.

As it is hard to find help, people often turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, Cavallaro said, which can lead to them developing an addiction. This is likely to only exacerbate the negative feelings, and increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors - to which CADIs are already vulnerable.

Recovery means going through a mourning process, and learning to forgive yourself

Cavallaro said there are trauma-focused treatments such as prolonged exposure (PE) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT) that can effectively reduce trauma-related guilt and shame.

These therapies tend to be based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and focus on correcting the exaggerated and distorted beliefs an accidental killer may experience, to disentangle them from their own identity. This can take between 16 and 24 sessions, she added. Therapists who specialize in these areas can be found through websites such as Psychology Today or the American Psychological Association.


"Healing is a journey, but suffering does not have to be lifelong," she said. "Support groups can also be a significant asset to recovery as they can reduce the feelings of loneliness and help people to feel understood as well as provide hope."

Cavallaro noted a website called Accidental Impacts, which is run by and dedicated to those who have been in a vehicular accident resulting in the death or serious injury of another person.

"There is no easy path to peace. Each of us must find our own way through this dark night of the soul," the website reads. "Although we cannot change what happened, we can control how we respond."

Spaas said there needs to be space to process the event and go through a period of mourning, and to spend time focusing on kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness. This process may be helped along by the person getting involved in charity or community work to work with families who have lost loved ones.

"A lot of self-love too," she added. "Remembering that who they are as a person is not defined by one event."


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