Society must be more attentive to trauma survivors in wake of mass shooting epidemic

Just over a year after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., survivor Sydney Aiello took her own life. In the days following Aiello’s passing, two other people connected to mass shootings took their own lives. While being transparent about this horrible incident raises awareness regarding mental health after significant distress, it is crucial that we reevaluate how we treat and care for people after they’ve gone through considerable trauma.

Although there have been serious attempts to get the students of Parkland access to the mental health resources that they need following the tragedy, it is difficult to get through to everyone due to the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide. 

“We want the community to be talking about it. We can’t end the stigma, we can’t address the issues if we’re not talking about them,” Parkland mayor Christine Hunschofsky told CNN. “When something like this happens there’s no road map for it and you can never have enough resources.”

Aiello had been professionally diagnosed, however, with both survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to CNN. Seeing a therapist, while a step in the right direction, does not appear to be enough on its own. 

Some have taken to saying Aiello’s death shouldn’t be publicized so heavily, claiming it isn’t helping the situation. While the media should tread lightly with such a serious topic, so long as they don’t disrespect her memory, it should be openly discussed.

Talking about the issues not only raises awareness regarding the aftershocks of mass shootings, but pushes back against the stigma surrounding suicide. In fact, normalizing the discussion of suicidal thoughts has the potential to save lives. It may encourage someone to reach out for help. 

In response to mass shootings specifically, a petition has been started titled “Politicize My Death,” which encourages people to allow their names to be used in the political fight for gun control should they die in a mass shooting. It is this open-mindedness and transparency that forces people to stop and listen. 

Following any mass shooting, or trauma in general, we need to pay particularly close attention to the survivors. This begins with destigmatizing suicidal thoughts and pushing for even better mental health treatment. 

Until we find a way to avoid mass shootings from happening altogether, we must rally around and support the survivors to prevent more senseless tragedy.