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Survey: One-Third of Americans Say Fear of Mass Shootings Prevents Them From Going Places

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Jess Mador
A memorial in the Oregon District honored the Aug. 4 mass shooting victims.

A national survey conducted after last month’s mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso found more than three-quarters of Americans report feeling stressed by the possibility of another mass shooting, and a third of Americans say fear of a mass shooting, “prevents them from going to certain places and events.”

The American Psychological Association survey on stress and mass shootings, conducted online by The Harris Poll, questioned more than 2,000 people between August 8 and August 12.

When asked what places worry them most, respondents pointed to places including malls, schools, movie theaters and public events. And 32 percent said they feel they can’t, “go anywhere without worrying about being a victim of a mass shooting.”

More from the survey:

-More than three-quarters of adults (79 percent) in the U.S. say they experience stress as a result of the possibility of a mass shooting. -Many adults report that they are changing their behavior due to fear of mass shootings. -Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of adults report changing how they live their lives because of fear of a mass shooting."

Mental health counselor and University of Dayton Professor Scott Hall says those results aren’t surprising.

“When we’re blindsided by events, we can become hypervigilant,” Hall says. “We go on high alert that we not be blindsided again.”

It’s important for people affected by mass shootings to talk with friends, family members or a therapist about their feelings, Hall says.

"That’s not weak," he says. "That actually is a very courageous step to say, hey, I’m not in the best place. I need to reach out and connect with somebody, just to process this out so I can move forward in positive ways."

Hall says trauma can sometimes affect people even when they're not physically present during a mass shooting.

“The more these events happen in places where people can see themselves frequenting, the greater the mental health impact will be. We don’t have to experience these events directly for them to affect us. Simply hearing about them can have an emotional impact, and this can have negative repercussions for our mental and physical health,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., American Psychological Association chief executive officer, in the survey report. 

Read the survey.

While it is normal for community members to experience feelings of fear after a mass shooting, UD's Hall says if symptoms continue after a month or impact a person's daily functioning, it could indicate signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Attending community gatherings, such as the recent Oregon District shooting vigils and fundraisers, may help some people reclaim a sense of mental well-being. “When we feel alone, we want to get connected. When we feel like we don’t have a voice, we need to advocate,” Hall says. “That’s a way that post-traumatic stress growth can happen.”

He advises people experiencing symptoms of fear to maintain healthy sleeping and eating habits. He urges anyone struggling with overwhelming feelings of fear and despair to seek professional help.

To locate mental health services near you, visit Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services or ADAMHS, or the Wright State University Ellis Institute.