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Mass shootings increasing anxiety in some people, causing them to change their routines

Posted at 3:40 PM, Aug 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-09 15:40:22-04

Research shows the number of mass shootings has created an increased level of anxiety for a growing number of people.

That’s the case for Mila Johns, who doesn’t leave her Maryland home as much as she used to. Johns feels defenseless and gripped by fear that she could become the next victim of a mass shooting.

“I've changed my day-to-day routine,” she says. “I don't go to the movies. When we go out, I know where the exits are. I sit with my back to the wall. Sometimes it's easier to just not deal with it and stay home.”

When she does go out, Johns went as far as buying a trauma pack—which includes trauma pads, sterile gloves, duct tape, bandages, dressing and antiseptic—to take with her. Johns’ 13-year-old daughter also carries on her backpack when she goes to school.

“Sadly, that's where she's most likely to have to use it, it feels” Johns says. “And that's just heartbreaking.”

Johns knows some people may feel she's overreacting, but she points out that research shows the amount of mass shootings in the U.S. this year has outpaced the number of days. That's according to Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit research group.

It qualifies mass shootings as four or more people shot or killed, excluding the shooter.

As of now, 2019 is on track to average more than one mass shooting a day.

“We're at, I think on Sunday it was 251 mass shootings on the 216th day of the year,” Johns says. “It just feels inevitable.”

Daniel Z. Lieberman, a professor of psychiatry at George Washington University, says although mass shootings are happening more frequently, it’s still very rare.

“The risk of being killed in a mass shooting is about 1 in 100,000,” he explains. “Compare that to the risk dying from cancer, which is 1 in 7; dying in an automobile, that's about 1 in 100, so rationally, it just doesn't make sense to worry about that.”

He says it's normal to have some anxiety after a tragedy, but he says people can get caught up with the idea of being in danger rather than the reality.

“Anxiety is not a rational experience. It's an emotion,” he says. “And emotions often don't respond to facts, and particularly statistics, which tend to be very dry.”

For Johns, she says she would be more comforted by action instead of numbers.

“Statistics aren't helping anybody feel better when we are living in a culture where this just keeps happening and there's no desire or willingness to change,” she says.