The Psychological Effects of Gun Violence on Campus

The peace of Friday June 7, 2013 was shattered at 11:52 a.m. when Santa Monica police officers received calls reporting gunshots around the area of the Santa Monica College campus.

Amidst the chaos that ensued during that morning and in the days following, the psychological services office at SMC helped the campus deal with the repercussions of such an horrific unexpected occurrence.

Dr. Sandra Lyons Rowe, coordinator of the psychological services at SMC, was present the day of the shooting.

"I was in the office along with our front office staff person, a student worker, one of our post-doctoral interns, and one mental health counselor from another agency," said Rowe. "It was a frightening and traumatic experience for all of us, not only those of us who were here, but the staff who were not here were impacted just knowing what happened and wondering how we were doing."

Six people were killed that day, including the shooter himself.

In the wake of such tragic violence, it is understandable that there would be psychological repercussions for students, faculty, and those living in the neighborhoods surrounding SMC.

Though SMC Police Chief Albert Vasquez, said it was "not a school shooting," the effect the event had on campus was still palpable.

"What we have seen from students are the typical reactions that most people have after a traumatic event, which are well documented," said Rowe.

According to, a non-profit organization that provides support and information on mental health issues, the effects of such unexpected trauma can be both psychological and physical. Feelings of hopelessness, fear, and anxiety are often coupled with physical issues such as insomnia, nightmares, and fatigue.

The major question that is raised after every school shooting is how to prevent them in the future, especially given the seemingly spontaneous nature of such violent outbursts.

The United States Department of Education offers a list of possible warning signs of violent behavior. Among them are social withdrawal and elevated feelings of isolation.

Though certain warning signs can be helpful in determining whether an individual is harboring violent intentions, they are hardly a fool-proof defense strategy.

"No one really knows how to predict behavior," said Rowe. "However, I believe that we need better mental health treatment and most importantly better education around mental health issues."

Providing more mental health services may prove to reduce the frequency of public acts of violence, and, as such, programs and awareness has been raised to these areas. This past May was Mental Health Awareness Month across the nation, a very busy time of the year for Rowe and her staff.

"We have done our best, with limited resources, to support and educate the campus community," said Rowe.

Having professional services available to those that seek them on campus is a key tool in preventing future incidents, though it is not a guarantee for preventing the behavior altogether. Those professionals working in the psychological services department are also personally affected by the violence, but are there to help others impacted by these tragedies.

"Although we are professionals, we are also human beings who have human responses to traumatic events," said Rowe.

The Psychological Services office is open Monday through Friday and is located in Liberal Arts 110 at the main campus.