For survivors of mass shootings, guilt can be debilitating

Posted: Updated:

A survivor of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida took her own life after the mental anguish from the incident became too much to bear.

Sydney Aiello had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt following the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting that killed 17 students and staff members. The act was allegedly carried out by a former student, Nikolas Cruz.

Experts in the mental health field say that guilt and PTSD can be debilitating for survivors of trauma.

“So what the body does is that it kept reliving that event. It’ll present flashbacks of memories as if it’s happening in the present moment,” says Nancy Howard with the Howard Center for Wellness. “We see it in our dreams. We see it in our waking present.”

Experts say that it is no surprise that Aiello was unable to go to her college classes. Her family says that the classroom was a trigger for her.

Howard says that survivor’s guilt often takes three forms: Feeling guilty for surviving, guilt over what we did to contribute to the loss and feeling guilty for what we should have done. Howard says that to cope with those feeling this way should ask themselves several questions.

“Who is responsible for what’s going on? What role is it that we played in this event? Is there anything we could’ve done in reality?” says Howard.

Aiello’s mother says that her daughter never asked for any type of help before taking her life. Health experts say that parents should look for signs of suicidal behavior, like isolation before it is too late.

As for Cruz, he was in court Friday for a hearing. His attorney says that he would plead guilty in return for a life sentence. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty.

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