Gun Violence - Mental Health

Tips by Theme or Topic

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  1. There are many types of gun violence
    1. Gun violence includes homicides perpetrated with a firearm, as well as gun suicide, police shootings and unintentional shootings.
  2. Depict gun violence with accuracy and authenticity
    1. Show the physical and emotional toll a shooting takes on the victim, their loved ones, those who witnessed the incident, and the surrounding community.
  3. Gun violence is not inevitable — there are solutions
    1. Storytelling can include actionable steps that can be taken to reduce gun violence, such as securing firearms in a gun safe and investing in violence interruption programs.

Storytelling Tips

Portray a Range of Mental Health Experiences
  • Portray the toll that gun violence can take on individuals, their loved ones and communities.
  • Show the full range of devastation that gun violence survivors can experience: PTSD, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm, substance abuse issues, and suicidal ideation. The lasting effects can impair a person’s ability to thrive in school or work, and can damage their interpersonal relationships.
  • Discuss the impact of gun violence on loved ones of victims and survivors. This includes the mental health toll experienced by secondary trauma, as well as the toll of caregiving.
  • Portray the psychological toll on entire communities — typically Black and BIPOC communities — that experience frequent gun violence, or police violence. (Look here for additional guidance on police violence.)
  • Avoid minimizing the physical trauma caused by a gunshot wound. Many people do not fully understand the damage that a bullet from a handgun or assault weapon can do to a body.
Diversify Representation
  • Depict different types of gun violence with a special attention to the most affected populations.
Show Conversations About Mental Health and Help-Seeking
  • Show survivors, their loved ones and people within affected communities having  emotional reactions to gun violence.
  • The majority of Americans ages 15-72 cite fear of shootings as a major source of anxiety; however, this anxiety is not widely acknowledged or depicted in media and entertainment. Showing open conversations about anxiety or other emotions related to gun violence can help viewers feel less alone and more likely to speak up themselves. 
  • Numbness and avoidance is a common emotional response. Media portrayals can name this out loud and normalize it, in addition to showing people how to ground themselves in their actual emotions.

Move Past Stereotypes
  • Avoid stereotypes and reinforcing mythologies around gun violence. 
Avoid Sharing Potentially Harmful Details
  • Be mindful that audience members may have a personal connection to gun violence, which can impact their viewing experience. 
  • Graphic scenes of violence and frequent firearm imagery can be triggering to survivors. When possible, use trigger warnings before the beginning of an episode or scene.
  • When possible, avoid traumatizing content such as showing a gun pointed directly at the camera, employing audio of extended gunfire and screaming, or filming a scene from the point of view of a shooter.
  • Consider reducing the number of firearms or scenes of gun violence shown on screen and emphasizing narratives that guns make people less safe.
  • Depict gun safety and show characters who are responsible gun owners practicing secure storage.
Provide resources and calls-to-action
  • Show that gun violence is preventable and solutions exist. 
  • Depict the community-based solutions that help survivors and people at risk of perpetrating gun violence access mental health support. These narratives make people feel more hopeful about tackling the gun violence crisis, and can inspire positive action.
  • It’s crucial not to present gun violence as a problem that cannot be solved – while conveying the horror of gun violence, stories should include ways to prevent such violence and to help those already affected.


Gun violence is at an all-time high in the United States. The nation now has more firearms — 393 million firearms — than people, and gun violence is the leading cause of death for people under 25. 58 percent of Americans say they or someone they care for has experienced gun violence. While mass shootings receive the most attention in the press and social media, gun suicide comprises about 60% of gun deaths and gun homicide the remaining 40%; half of those homicides are found in largely Black and BIPOC communities in about 127 cities.

In addition to the risks of death and physical injury, the gun violence crisis has had significant consequences for the mental health of gun violence survivors. Survivors can include people who have been shot, threatened with a gun, had someone they know killed or injured by gun violence, dealt with shootings as part of their jobs (such as a nurse or doctor), or who have been in an active shooter situation or witnessed a shooting.

9 out of 10 survivors of gun violence report experiencing trauma, which can include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. Gun violence trauma can also result in an inability to perform daily functions; job loss; interpersonal relationship challenges; and financial instability resulting from legal fees, medical bills and funeral expenses. One in three survivors has needed financial assistance, and one in four has needed mental health services. Given that Black and BIPOC people are disproportionately affected by gun violence, these traumatic consequences often fall the hardest on these communities.

In some cases, survivors of gun violence may cope with stigma, especially in cases involving gun suicide. Individuals and communities — again, the vast majority of whom are Black or BIPOC —who experience police violence can lose trust in law enforcement and legal institutions.

Entertainment has an important role to play in showing the true devastation caused by gun violence, and the solutions that exist to reduce it. Counter to the theory that criminals will always find a way to get their hands on guns, states with stronger gun laws have lower rates of gun violence. Street outreach, as well as community and hospital-based violence interruption programs have been shown to reduce the risk of gun violence. Additionally, community-based crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) initiatives, which can include acts as simple as cleaning up abandoned lots, has been shown to decrease gun assaults by nearly one-third.

Storytelling has an opportunity to reflect the true emotional toll of gun violence, share the strategies for preventing it and direct people to the support tools they need.

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more in part 6