Written by Hina Fullar, M.D., Attending Psychiatrist, New York
While working with chronically homeless individuals going through the repeated cycles of incarceration, homelessness and hospitalizations, I have observed that having sustained gunshot injuries more than once in their lives is as common a complaint as insomnia or mood disorder.
One thing that we often forget is that the guns not only kill, but they also leave many victims alive suffering permanent physical and (invisible) psychological scars for years to come. These gun violence victims live and walk around us, having lost the possibility and prospects of a life that was stripped away from them in a flash of a gunshot. Unfortunately, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by gun violence may go unrecognized by psychiatrists and health professionals due to patients avoiding treatment or reminders of the traumatic incident.
The great irony of PTSD is that its one cardinal symptom is avoidance. A person suffering from PTSD often tries to cope with the chronic distressing impact of trauma by avoiding any cues or reminder of traumatic incident. Avoidance – never wanting to re-visit the trauma again – means that patients may suffer from such a severity of PTSD that paradoxically keeps them from seeking adequate treatment. Unfortunately, PTSD surfaces in multiple forms including unstable mood, anger, fights, substance abuse, and the inability to keep jobs, relationships and even housing.
Sometimes gun-violence victims, who muster the courage to come to the psychiatrist for PTSD treatment, come with this hope that one can get a pill that would erase the impact of trauma they have endured. But there is no magic pill to cure gun violence-related PTSD. Instead there is work and speaking out.
With the mounting evidence about morbidity and mortality resulting from gun violence, I believe it is the responsibility of all physicians to stand for the scientific and evidence-based facts which support approaching gun violence – and resulting PTSD – as a public health crisis.
To find gun violence prevention information, helpful resources, and action opportunities, please visit http://npalliance.org/gun-violence-prevention.