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Mass panic, false alarm reactions normal after mass shootings, expert says

Posted at 5:29 PM, Aug 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-07 21:59:47-04

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – The impact of these mass shootings is being felt across the country. With several false alarms, including one at the Valley Fair Mall Tuesday night, it begs the question – is the nation experiencing a form of post-traumatic stress?

The sound of a falling sign sent people at Valley Fair Mall running for cover. The same night, the backfire of motorcycles in New York City's Times Square created chaos, as hundreds scrambled for safety.

Craig Bryan, Executive Director of the National Center for Veteran's Studies at the University of Utah, said these reactions are normal.

"There’s a heightened startle reaction to kind of just everyday events. We’ve had a high density of mass shootings in a short period of time so it makes sense that people are on edge. It is our inherent survival system helping us to stay alive," Bryan said.

However, he wouldn't call it PTSD. When diagnosing the stress disorder the requirements Bryan considers, was the event dangerous or life-threatening to you or someone you care about? He also considers whether the symptoms reflect or tie back to the trauma.

"Of course we’re certainly anxious. We’re certainly concerned, but a lot of times the anxiety we feel is not sort of reliving or re-experiencing of the event so we would not consider that to be PTSD," Bryan said.

It's perfectly human to be on edge as we process the frequency of these senseless shootings.

"I think right now people are still in that elevated, heightened sensitivity level and I think it will go down," Bryan said.

As long as we're also able to process the updated information, that we're safe and it's just a false alarm.

"It’s when we continue to stay anxious and afraid and in essence, disregard that disconfirming evidence that’s where people really start to struggle with anxiety," Bryan said.

If you're finding yourself having trouble coming back to that normal state after a heightened anxiety experience and it's persisting for a few weeks, Bryan recommends seeing a mental health professional.