Mass Shootings, PTSD, and Health Care Workers

by | Nurse Resources

When I hear of major tragedies like the bombings in Paris and Lebanon, the first thing I typically think of is all of the first responders that get to the victims and their safety, then of all the nurses, doctors, and support staff that are caring for the wounded and sorting through the deceased. I cannot imagine how difficult that must be.

I work in critical care, which can present some traumatic situations, but typically the patients are all cleaned up and there is a plan of care to follow. It’s different when they are fresh out of the tragedy, still covered in blood, or their families are frantically trying to find them, and 50 of them just came to the hospital all at once. Suddenly, the hospital is completely overwhelmed with a large influx of very unstable patients.

When you are facing those situations, it’s important for you to be at the top of your game when you’re in the thick of it. You don’t really have time to process or think about what you are seeing. You go into autopilot to address the situations in front of you. And you are awesome at it.

And then when you have some downtime, it comes back. When you have time to sit and reflect on what you just went through, it’s scary, painful, and upsetting.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very real and prevalent condition in these occupations. It is absolutely essential to be able to recognize if this might be something you are experiencing. Ignoring it or pretending you’re fine only takes you farther and farther from healing wholly and experiencing peace.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, symptoms of PTSD include:

Intrusive memories – this includes flashbacks, severe emotional reactions/distress to something that reminds you of the event, reliving the event, or upsetting dreams.

Avoidance – doing whatever you can to avoid a similar situation or event, not talking or thinking about it.

Negative changes in thinking and mood – this makes it tough to maintain relationships, as well as hopelessness, an inability to experience positive emotions, overall negative feelings about people or yourself, not interested in the same things, or issues with your memory.

Changes in emotional reactions – issues with sleeping and concentrating, feeling overwhelmed with shame or guilt, always on alert, self-destructive behavior (drinking, drugs), irritability, or easily frightened.

If you or some coworkers are exhibiting these symptoms, get help. Do not suffer in silence. It is not something to just “tough out”. Many hospitals have Employee Assistance Programs, which employ counselors that are trained to deal with PTSD. Please utilize them. There is no shame in your self-care game. Getting professional help for PTSD is just as important as getting antibiotics for pneumonia, Coumadin for your mechanical heart valve, or a cast for your broken arm.

If you think a coworker is experiencing this, talk to them. See how you can support and encourage them to do what they need to do to heal. The support of a licensed counselor is essential. Please encourage them to speak to a professional and support them along the way. The last thing we want to do is ignore it and expect people to toughen up and forget about it.

People process things differently. No matter what they may have been through, if they are exhibiting these symptoms, speak to them. Support them. Encourage them. And if I’m talking about you, talk to someone. Get that support. You deserve it.

Do not suffer in silence.

If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 STAT.

The suicide hotline number in the United States (the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) is 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) – you will be connected to a trained counselor.

Kati Kleber

Kati Kleber

StaffGarden Contributor

Kati Kleber wants you to be the best nurse you can be in the shortest amount of time possible. It takes a little while to develop your nursey confidence, & she wants to remove as many roadblocks as possible. Check out her blog at


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