Survivor’s Guilt: The Often Unknown Side Effect of a Tragedy

Aislinn McDonald, Staff Writer

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Teens and parents nowadays are facing tragedy and horror, as if it’s the new norm. From school shootings, to war, to terrorist attacks, loved ones are lost left and right. While people feel sorry for those who lost their lives suffering, it is difficult to remember that survivors suffer as well.

Survivors guilt is making its way into headlines, even if the tragic events fall far into the past. In just the past month, two teens who survived a school shooting and a father whose daughter passed in a school shooting have fallen victim to this mental incapacitation. A big question has been raised, is guilt really that effective against those who suffer from tragic events, and survive?

Survivors guilt is when an individual believes that they have committed a wrongdoing by surviving from tragedy that others suffered from, either fatally or on a worse scale. Survivors guilt is actually pretty common and does not only affect people who have gone through war or school shootings. Survivors guilt can affect immigrants who leave their families in a suffering country, cancer survivors, car accident survivors, and any other situation that can stimulate guilt. While feeling guilt is common, defining characteristics of survivor’s guilt include depression, constant thoughts of what could have been done differently, thoughts of suicide, irritability, distancing from close peers, hypervigilance, and insomnia. The signs correlate with depression, and survivors’ guilt is actually a gateway to PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Twitter typically keeps teens in the loop of big news around the world. Devany Newcomb,12, said that she first encountered the idea of survivors guilt on the social media site, when she read about the two teens from Parkland who committed suicide after suffering from survivors guilt for a year untreated. Less than a week later she read about the father who committed suicide after his child lost their life in a school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. “Teen depression and suicide is sadly almost normal in our society, but I was surprised by how many survivors ended up succumbing to suicide. If I was in that situation, I feel like I would be super thankful that I survived, but I feel like it would be a different story if that became a reality,” she states.

Although social media helps aid the discovery of survivor’s guilt, it actually has been discussed in the past. Waylon Jennings, known for his outlaw country style of music, offered his friend a spot on an airplane to a show to instead take a bus that continually was breaking down. When Jennings’s friend said that he hoped his bus crashed, Jennings replied that he hoped the plane crashed. The plane actually ended up crashing, which Jennings’s thought he caused for a long period of time. Although this happened in 1959, survivors’ guilt is still present today.

Its important to realize that survivors’ guilt can be nesting inside any of your peers. Its important to recognize the signs and know when someone needs help. The fact that an individual’s mentality is fueled by guilt is an abstract concept, that not many people know how to deal with.