Mass Violence/Community Violence

While warnings are possible before some kinds of disasters, such as hurricanes or tornadoes, they are generally impossible before incidents of mass violence. Coupled with the fact that people in these incidents may get injured and see others injured or killed, incidents of violence may lead to a deep sense of loss of control, fear, and anxiety in situations in which there is no actual risk. This may be true even for people who were not directly involved, but who lived in the same area or heard or read about the incident in the news.

Incidents of mass violence and community violence, which include terrorist attacks, may be expressions of prejudice and negative feelings toward people of particular nationalities, religions, races, ethnic or cultural groups, or sexual orientations. They may also be less targeted—cases in which an individual attacks people around him or her for reasons other than prejudice. Regardless, because these incidents can damage trust, they can rend the fabric of communities and belief in the basic goodness of others.

On the other hand, communities often grow stronger through response and recovery following incidents of mass violence and community violence. As described in an issue of The Dialogue about disaster memorials, memorials to honor lives lost in incidents of mass violence have played an important role in healing for communities across the country. In addition to memorials, communities may initiate programs and other efforts to help their members cope with their reactions to incidents of violence, tap into their sources of strength, and build resilience over the long term.

This installment of the SAMHSA Disaster Behavioral Health Information Series features materials for the public, college students, parents and other caregivers, managers, school personnel, and responders on these topics:

  • Common reactions to incidents of mass violence, community violence, and terrorism, and tips for coping with these reactions
  • Common reactions in children and adolescents after incidents of violence and terrorism, and ways to help them cope and recover
  • Signs of the need for professional mental health support
  • Trauma, traumatic stress, posttraumatic stress disorder, and acute stress disorder
  • Resilience building
  • Incidents of workplace violence, and dealing with and recovering from these incidents

Use the menu bar on the left to narrow the results by audience, population group, professional and research topic, or other area of interest.

Related Resources

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A practical guide for crisis response in our schools (5th ed.) - National Center for Crisis Management
This guide provides information to help schools respond effectively to a range of school crises and disasters that affect school communities. The links provided offer strategies to potentially prevent violent school-based tragedies, identify students who may be at greatest risk of violent behavior, and address the emergent needs of students during times of crisis.

Building resilience to manage indirect exposure to terror - American Psychological Association (APA)
In this online article, the APA suggests ways to build resilience and cope with exposure to incidents of terrorism through newspapers, broadcast news, social media, and word of mouth. The importance of developing practices for emotional wellness and resilience is discussed, as are ways to avoid overexposure to the incident, plan for emergencies, help survivors, and tap into social networks to enhance coping and resilience.

Caring for kids after a school shooting - Child Mind Institute
This video features Dr. Paramjit Joshi, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC, who offers guidance for teachers and counselors in supporting children in processing and coping after a school shooting or other traumatic event.

Community violence: Reactions and actions in dangerous times - National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)
Designed for youth, this resource provides information on community violence, how it can affect the daily lives of people in communities with high levels of violence, and what to do for support. It also helps youth to understand their reactions and offers tips for safety.

Coping after terrorism for survivors - U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Office for Victim Assistance (DOJ, FBI, OVA)
This handbook is intended to help survivors of a terrorist or mass violence incident to understand common reactions they may experience. It includes coping tips and suggestions for finding assistance from friends, mental health professionals, and the Office for Victim Assistance.

Coping with stress after a mass violence event - American Red Cross
Written after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 50 people lost their lives, this webpage offers tips for helping people cope with their feelings, build resilience, support their loved ones, and access additional support if needed after an incident of mass violence. The page also features a link to a tip sheet with ideas to help the public foster recovery among their family and friends and in their community, and with tips for counselors and other caregivers.

Effects of traumatic stress after mass violence, terror, or disaster - U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD (VA, PTSD)
This publication provides information on normal reactions to abnormal situations such as traumatic events. It includes descriptions of common traumatic stress reactions, problematic stress responses, and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder.

Grief leadership: Leadership in the wake of tragedy - Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (USUHS, CSTS)
This tip sheet provides guidance to help leaders understand their role in individual and community recovery following a tragedy such as a natural or human-caused disaster. This resource offers leaders communication strategies for the immediate aftermath of a tragedy as well as throughout the recovery process. The list of common symptoms of grief can also help leaders provide support and plan recovery activities.

Helping children and adolescents cope with violence and disasters: What community members can do - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health (HHS, NIH, NIMH)
This publication includes information for community members to help children deal with trauma after an event such as community violence. It includes common reactions to trauma among children of different age ranges, ways for adults to help children and adolescents who have experienced trauma, information about trauma and signs of the need for professional mental health assistance, and a list and links to related resources.

Helping children and adolescents cope with violence and disasters: What rescue workers can do - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health (HHS, NIH, NIMH)
This publication describes what rescue workers can do to help children and adolescents cope with violence, including terrorism, and natural disasters. It explains what trauma is, identifies common reactions to trauma in children and adolescents, lists ways for adults to help children cope with reactions to traumatic experiences, and provides additional information and links to resources about stress and trauma.

Helping children cope with terrorism - tips for families and educators - National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
This online article suggests ways for families and school staff to behave around children, and talk with children, to help them cope with the emotional effects of acts of terrorism. Adults are also advised to monitor their own emotions and levels of stress and engage in self-care activities.

Helping victims of mass violence and terrorism: Planning, response, recovery, and resources - U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime (DOJ, OJP, OVC)
This toolkit provides information, guidance, checklists, and other resources to help communities incorporate assistance for victims into their mass violence and terrorism preparedness and response efforts. The toolkit features sections to guide communities in developing partnerships, planning for effective victim assistance, and engaging in response and recovery activities. It may be useful to behavioral health care providers, victim service providers, emergency managers, public health and law enforcement officials, and others involved in planning and responding to mass violence and terrorism.

Incidents of mass violence - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (HHS, SAMHSA)
This webpage discusses the risk factors for distress after a mass violence event. The page also discusses what to do in lock-down situations, signs of distress, how to get help when needed, and additional resources.

In the aftermath of a shooting: Helping your children manage distress - American Psychological Association (APA)
In this online article, the APA provides recommendations for parents for talking with their children after a shooting. The APA provides tips and strategies for helping children manage their distress, and it suggests that parents also engage in self-care activities so they can effectively support their children in coping.

Managing a workplace or organization after a crisis - Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (USUHS, CSTS)
The goal of this tip sheet is to provide guidance to managers regarding their role in workplace recovery following a disaster. Tips address taking care of the team and the workplace environment during the recovery process.

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Last Updated: 09/06/2017