Shotspotter Blog

Effects of PTSD: What you need to know about PTSD and Gunfire

Of the many unintended consequences of war and possibly the most serious is the traumatic stress and its resultant mental health impact on troops reentering society. Generally understood as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or its acronym, PTSD, the words can conjure up the image of battle damaged soldiers, who are easily startled, unable to forget events they witnessed while in combat, and ready to “snap” at the slightest provocation.

The psychological effects of PTSD
The effects of traumatic stress, reported first by the ancient Greeks(1) , and only classified as a psychiatric disorder in 1980(2) , are both well-documented and tough to live with: nightmares; difficulty sleeping; flashbacks; inability to concentrate; difficulty establishing trust, negative feelings about others; and hyper-vigilance, jittery, always on alert, sudden anger or irritability.  (3)Signs of PTSD symptoms that need professional help include symptoms that last longer than three months, cause you great distress or disrupt your work or home life. (Visit National Center for PTSD for more information on symptoms.) These symptoms may be successfully treated with medication and therapy but untreated, may linger for years or over a lifetime. In many cases, the duration and frequency of traumatic events dictates the severity and duration of PTSD symptoms(4) , and the toll in terms of wasted lives on a world-wide level has been staggering.

PTSD after Gunfire Incidents
No one should be surprised, then, to learn that men, women, children and even the unborn who are exposed to drive-by shootings, armed robberies; the wounding and murder of family, friends and neighbors, are subject to the same kind of emotional trauma that affects soldiers in and after combat.(5)  This begs the question of the effects on residents of neighborhoods that experience continual, unaddressed gunfire.

ShotSpotter, used in 90 locations worldwide, has shown that gunfire is far more widespread than is reported by calls to 9-1-1 which typically only reaches about 20% of the actual shots fired. Neighborhood residents often come to expect unabated gunfire, and police departments without ShotSpotter are not being alerted to up to 80% of shots fired, greatly impacting the physical and mental well-being of those citizens.

According to the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence, or NatSCEV(6) , three in five children experienced at least one exposure to violence in the past year.
Children, our most valuable resource, demonstrate symptoms of PTSD when constantly exposed to gunfire, even if they themselves are never actually injured – it’s the ongoing threat, often combined with witnessing other violent events, that causes PTSD to take hold.(7)

In communities where ShotSpotter Flex is deployed, one might expect even more significant exposures due to economic hardship and lack of mental health resources. Further, according to Dr. Steven Marans, Director of Yale’s Child Violent Trauma Center, the two gravest risk factors for children developing PTSD are failure of caregivers to recognize a child’s post-traumatic distress absence of social/family support (8) . That all those conditions exist in America’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods goes without saying. The real question is, what might we do to mitigate the damage?

First and foremost, police agencies must understand the full scope of PTSD in their communities due to gunfire in their cities.  ShotSpotter Flex can greatly assist with this and SST’s partner agencies frequently relate success stories and every day we work to help create new ones. Call or email me to find out how your agency or city can do the same:

Additional resources on PTSD include:

Gun Violence Archive
Office of Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Programs Institute Publications
Baltimore Sun – Collateral Damage: Advocates aim to save Baltimore children from impact of violence


(1)Carlstedt, Roland (2009). Handbook of Integrative Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, and Behavioral Medicine Perspectives, Practices, and Research. New York: Springer Pub. Co. p. 353. ISBN 9780826110954. Accessed June 20, 2016

(2) Klykylo, William M. (2012). Clinical child psychiatry (3. ed. ed.). Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons. p. Chapter 15. ISBN 9781119967705. Accessed June 20, 2016

(3) US Dept of Vetrans Affairs, National Center for PTSD Accessed June 20, 2016

(4)US Dept of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD Accessed June 20, 2016

(5) Ibid
(6)Finkelhor, D., Turner, H.A., Shattuck, A.M., and Hamby, S.L. 2013. Violence, crime, and abuse exposure in a   national sample of children and youth: An update. JAMA Pediatrics 167(7):614–621. U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 2012

 (7) ibid
 (8) Personal conversation with Dr. Marans, October 13, 2015 Yale University

July 18, 2016
By: Mark D. Jones, Sr. Director, Customer Success