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Aurora, Colorado Tragedy Leads to Increased PTSD Vulnerability

Posted on Aug 07, 2012

America watched in horror as the details of the July 2012 massacre of moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, unfolded on television. We asked ourselves questions. How could this happen? And what will the effects be on those who witnessed and survived the attack?

According to an ABC Good Morning America interview of Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, psychiatrist in chief at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia University Medical Center, the shock and surprise of the mass shooting could cause post-traumatic stress disorder for those most vulnerable.

Lieberman was interviewed on the popular morning show as the hosts struggled with the rest of the country and world to make sense of such a senseless act.

“On the emotional Richter scale it was very high,” Lieberman said. “You go to a movie like Batman because it’s fun-loving entertainment, and you are seeing kids in costumes and the last thought you are thinking about is some type of seriously dangerous, potentially life-threatening situation.”

Psychiatric experts say it is very difficult to predict who will experience PTSD symptoms following the shootings. However, it is anticipated that approximately 7% to 8% will have trouble dealing with the trauma and will develop PTSD.

Cited on the show were other similar traumatic events and the effects they had on both those who experienced them and those who witnessed them. In 1999, the Columbine shooting, which took place only nine miles from Aurora, resulted in an expected number people who suffered PTSD afterward. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that two blocks away from the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, approximately 27% of the staff members at a school suffered physical symptoms and consequently missed work. 

Only time will tell what psychological effects this recent tragedy will have on its survivors. “We all have our breaking points,” Lieberman said.

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John L. Keefe
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