"It becomes a morbid fascination." The hidden toll of school shootings we're just starting to see.


Content Warning: This post deals with suicide and may be triggering for some readers.

“How many more kids have to be taken from us as a result of suicide for the government/school district to do anything? RIP 17 + 2.”

That’s a tweet from David Hogg, a survivor of last year’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida which killed 14 students and three teachers. Two other survivors of the shooting have died in the past week – Sydney Aiello, who graduated from the school last year, and an unnamed 17-year-old boy, still attending the school.


Sydney’s mother Cara says she died by suicide. She had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was suffering survivor’s guilt. As for the 17-year-old, police say it was an apparent suicide.

Jeremy Richman, the father of a six-year-old girl killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre also died this week, reportedly by suicide.

“Stop saying, ‘You’ll get over it,’” Hogg wrote in another tweet yesterday. “You don’t get over something that never should have happened because those that die from gun violence are stolen from us not naturally lost. Trauma and loss don’t just go away, you have to learn to live with it, through getting support.”


Other students who survived the shooting are chiming in with their experiences.

“After experiencing the deadliest high school mass shooting in American history and forced to attend to the same campus two weeks later, I remember at one point I couldn’t bear to write my paper,” Kyra Parrow tweeted. “I went to my teacher – she proceeds to tell me to ‘put my grief in a box’ to complete it.”

“Our friends need actual help, because the ‘just get over it’ rhetoric which has been forced upon us has done nothing to help the healing process,” Aly Sheehy wrote. “Pushing normal so soon has buried the pain and the lack of professional support has been detrimental to mental health. I’m sorry, 19.”


Associate Professor Grant Devilly from the School of Applied Psychology at Queensland’s Griffith University says in the old days, there would have been debriefers sent in, following these kind of incidents. But not anymore.

“We found that the debriefing actually did more harm than good,” he says. “What we should be doing is letting people know these resources are freely available, and to go and see someone if after a period of time they’re still getting these issues.”

People who are suffering post-traumatic stress disorder might find, months after the incident, that they’re having unwanted thoughts about it, they’re dreaming about it, or they’re avoiding it – possibly even forgetting parts of it. They might find they’re hyper-alert, and easily shocked.

“We’ve got very good treatments for people,” Professor Devilly says.

As for survivor’s guilt, that begins with people asking themselves why they’ve lived and others have died. Professor Devilly says it’s normal to be self-critical.

“That’s how we progress as a species, so that we do better next time. But when the people around you are dying, there’s not much you can do about it.”

Survivor of the Sante Fe High School shooting, Paige Curry speaks out. Post continues below…


With survivor’s guilt, people get stuck on that question. “It doesn’t go away. It becomes a fascination, a morbid fascination. It can become almost obsessional.”

Fortunately, there’s effective treatment available, part of which involves getting the person to talk through the event.

“It needs to be done in a very specific and tailored way,” Professor Devilly says. “It’s not just a matter of telling someone to talk about it, and then that’s it.”

He says the best thing teenagers can do if their friends appear to be suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome or survivor’s guilt is to encourage them to seek help.

“If you’re one of their mates, you tell them, ‘You need to go and get help and I’ll come with you, if you need.’ It’s got to be positive social support, not, ‘You need to go and see a head doctor because you’re effing nuts.’”

As for Hogg, he’s asking for more money to be directed towards mental health – and he’s going right to the top.

“If @realDonaldTrump can spend $91,000,000 on golf trips to Mar-a-Lago while our kids suffer from trauma he can fund mental health,” he tweeted. “If mental health is your solution PLEASE make that a priority. Please allocate that money.”


If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, please seek professional help and contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If someone is in immediate danger, call 000 immediately.

Read more on this topic:

A year after this photo was taken, high school friends Sydney and Meadow are both gone.

“I wish I could take all the bullets for you”: Parkland victims’ mother writes Valentine’s letter to her daughter one year on.

Sandy Hook should’ve been the end. But here’s why the Florida shooting really might be.