Nearly 60 people were killed and hundreds more injured at a country music concert in Las Vegas – the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. As we mourn the innocent lives lost during this tragedy, the survivors will also be on a long road to cope with their own mental health.

News, Your Health | one month ago

After the Las Vegas Shooting: How to Cope with Tragedy

Nearly 60 people were killed and hundreds more injured at a country music concert in Las Vegas – the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. As we mourn the innocent lives lost during this tragedy, the survivors will also be on a long road to cope with their own mental health.

On Sunday night, tens of thousands of country fans watching musician Jason Aldean perform on stage thought they were enjoying the last night of a country music festival. But a shooter opened fire on the crowd from a nearby hotel, killing 59 people and injuring more than 500.

Survivors of the nightmare may still be alive, but they’re likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other behavioral health issues – whether they were injured or watched a stranger or loved one get injured or killed. They may start to feel these effects immediately or later on, but it’s key for them to recognize the signs and symptoms of potential mental health issues.

Identifying Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

If you or someone you love was in the crowd that night – which includes first responders – they may develop PTSD. Survivors may have trouble just getting through days, because they may be struggling with intrusive memories, trouble sleeping or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Different emotions can also start to well up. They may become angry, irritable or depressed. They may even feel there isn’t much of a future left for them, and that can make them feel hopeless.

“People can start to avoid things that may remind them of what happened to them or they may actually try to isolate from family members and friends,” says Rodney Villanueva, MD, a psychiatrist with Carolinas HealthCare System. “They may feel there isn’t much future left for them.”

How Anxiety May Affect Survivors

While survivors of the tragedy may struggle with PTSD immediately or in the following days, weeks and months, they can also start to feel generalized worry and even panic attacks. Their heart rate can spike and they suddenly feel impending doom, dizziness and shortness of breath. Drained from these experiences, their behavior may change or they may alter their schedules or routines in order to avoid panic attacks. They can even use negative tools like drugs and alcohol to cope.

“In the worst cases, people are afraid of going out of their homes,” says Dr. Villanueva. “Many times, people may try to cope with anxiety and panic in ways such as using alcohol and other drugs. And if that happens, that’s another problem that’s added to the whole picture.”

Healthy Ways to Cope

Finding healthy ways to cope is key for survivors, like paying attention to their basic needs and noticing what’s normal to feel and what’s not. If a survivor is continually recollecting intrusive memories and having nightmares every night – that can lead to unhealthy behaviors. The support of good friends, and avoiding negative coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol can help. Families of the victims can help support their loved one during this time – providing a listening ear and paying attention to signs of PTSD or suicidal feelings.

If the survivor is having trouble sleeping or suffers from nightmares, reaching out for proper mental healthcare is a good first step. Seeing a therapist can get to root of those trauma-induced nightmares, because until you address the trauma, those affected will have a more difficult time achieving relief.

For survivors, the immediate aftermath of a tragedy can be difficult to navigate. There are thoughts, feelings and emotions that may take time to understand and digest. It’s important at this time to surround yourself with the love and support. And if you are struggling to process the events, seek out the help of friends or family or a mental healthcare professional.