The mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida could have a lasting impact on the mental health of the country’s LGBT community. The increasing evidence that homophobia may have motivated the Orlando shooter means that the effects of Sunday’s shooting will likely extend far beyond the city of Orlando itself.
After any mass shooting, there are concerns over addressing mental health issues and PTSD symptoms among survivors, police officers, and health care personnel. After the country’s second most deadly shooting at Virginia Tech, for example, a study showed that 15 percent of students experienced high levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms.
One survivor of the Pulse shooting, Norman Casiano, was recently released from the hospital after being shot in the back. He is thankful to be back home, but said he experiences some post-traumatic stress after the harrowing events from the night.
“I’ll sleep and if I heard slamming or something, I don’t remember it, but my mom says that I would wake up startled and I would be looking around and freaking out and she would have to tell me: you’re safe, you’re safe, you’re safe,” Casiano told the New York Times. “Even the gunshots on the news, I automatically get nauseous.”
But the fact that the gunman targeted a specifically queer space affects LGBT people’s sense of security in a very specific way.
Anti-LGBT Bullying Has Long-Term Mental Health Consequences, Study FindsLGBT by CREDIT: Shutterstock/CristinaMuraca A new study from Northwestern University takes a unique controlled look at…thinkprogress.orgThe shooting took place at a place where LGBT individuals have historically been able to openly express themselves in the hopes of safety. In his comments in the aftermath of the tragedy, President Obama called the nightclub a “a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.”
LGBT-specific spaces like pride festivals and gay clubs “provide that sense of inclusion and social solidarity,” according to Long Doan, a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Indiana University-Bloomington who studies how heterosexuals perceive public displays of affection among LGBT communities. When that safety is threatened in cases like this shooting, it’s as if “people don’t really have an open space where they can express themselves freely,” said Doan.
Targeting a queer space puts a strain on a community that is particularly vulnerable.
The LGBT community is already grappling with the mental health issues that stem from discrimination. Being bullied for being different can lead to PTSD symptoms later in life. LGBTQ people are three times more likely to experience a mental health condition, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight people. LGBT people are more likely to be targeted for a hate crime than other minorities.
The subtle type of violence that LGBTQ people experience throughout their lives, like discrimination and family rejection, “often snowballs into larger problems,” according to Doug Meyer, a sociologist at the University of Virginia and the the author of a book that examines different forms of anti-LGBT violence. In his book, Meyer found that LGBT people with fewer financial resources were more likely to experience that snowball effect and eventually experience issues like homelessness, lack of work, and a cycle of poverty.
The high number of victims and the fact that it took place during LGBT Pride month makes it hard to characterize the total impact of this tragedy, Clinton Anderson, the Director of the LGBT Concerns Office within the American Psychological Association, told ThinkProgress.
Some mental health professionals have found that while some LGBT clients want to come out now more than ever, others are fearful to do so after the attack. Following the shooting, a New York man threatened to attack a gay bar in Brooklyn, which raises more concerns about whether LGBT people feel safe in public spaces.
Anybody experiencing distress after the shooting should reach out for support, Anderson said, and it may be particularly helpful for LGBT individuals to connect with other people in the queer community.
“When people who are targeted because of who they are reach out to people who have their characteristics to build community and support — that is very beneficial,” he said. “It helps them recover but also buffers against the negative experiences as well.”
Other recommendations from the APA include to ask for support from people who care and will listen, balancing the negative viewpoint by reminding yourself of encouraging events, limiting all of the news updates, and honoring the range of emotions you could be feeling.
In Orlando, the LGBT Center of Central Florida is offering counseling and had over 200 certified counselors volunteer their services following the shooting. Somos Orlando has information on organizations offering bilingual counseling.
Sydney Pereira is an intern with ThinkProgress.