Archive Monthly Archives: October 2019

Survivor’s Guilt

School shootings don’t just kill and maim, the trauma and terror create wounds and the PTSD that remains, leave deep scars across our society. It is easy to forget that there are humans, mostly children that have experienced terrifying nightmarish scenes that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. 

While much research has been done into motives of mass shooters, the psychology of school shooting survivors is just starting. We have so much to learn.

In the 20 yrs since the Columbine high school shooting, approximately 222,500 US students have been exposed to gun violence at 230+ schools nationwide, according to the Washington Post. Many studies show how surviving these traumatizing school shootings can negatively impact all that are involved throughout the rest of their lives. The National Center for PTSD estimates that 28% of people who have witnessed a mass shooting develop post-traumatic stress disorder and about 33% develop acute stress disorder. So it would only make sense that test scores also dramatically plummet.  These effects of trauma will stay with the survivors their entire life.

Survivor’s guilt is real. Sydney Aiello, a 19 yr old Parkland graduate and shooting survivor, killed herself. Her family said Sydney struggled with college because classrooms scared her and she had survivor’s guilt following the death of her friend in the shooting. Just like War Veterans, survivor’s guilt is a very real consequence. It needs to talked about. 

“She asked often, why she had survived when so many others [did not].” said Sydney’s family.

“The fact that students are often at a point in their lives where their academic future hinges on their success in school, and where that success can falter due to the mental distress of stepping back into a school where violence occurred, has detrimental aftershocks. ” The Daily Beast

Simply by definition, mass shootings are more likely to trigger difficulties with beliefs that most of us have, including that we live in a just world and that if we make good decisions, we’ll be safe.”American Psychological Association

“I don’t deserve to be alive.”

  “That should have been me.” 

These thoughts can plague a survivor’s mind. The tremendous amount of guilt also prevents them from discussing it with anyone.

One survivor summed it up like this, “It’s like, ‘I have guilt over not dying, this other person died, so why should I complain about feeling sad?’, he said.

Survivor’s guilt can also come from how they behaved or didn’t behave during the tragedy. “Maybe I rushed to get out of the way of the shooter!” or “I pushed past other kids to get away.” 

Survivor’s guilt is common in the face of extreme trauma and it absolutely can be treated.

If you or someone you know needs help, first reach out to a mental health professional or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.  


Thanks to the HuffPost and Daily Beast and Pacific Standard for their attention to this nationwide crisis.