Sydney Aiello, 19, who survived the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, died by suicide last weekend, her mother told CBS Miami. Aiello was a recent MSD graduate who was close friends with Meadow Pollack, one of the students who was killed in the shooting.
"Sydney spent 19 years writing her story as a beloved daughter, sister, and friend to many," reads a GoFundMe page set up in her honor. "She lit up every room she entered. She filled her days cheerleading, doing yoga, and brightening up the days of others. Sydney aspired to work in the medical field helping others in need."
Aiello's mother, Cara Aiello, said that her daughter was on campus during the shooting but not in the freshman building, where the shooting happened. She said her daughter was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suffered from survivor's guilt. She struggled to attend classes in college because she was afraid of being in a classroom, and she was often sad, but her mother said she did not ask for help.
The National Center for PTSD estimates that 28% of people who have witnessed a mass shooting develop PTSD. Heather Littleton, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, studied students' mental health after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and found that some survivors still had PTSD symptoms one year post-shooting. "It leaves them feeling lost and disconnected, so we need to make sure we have longer-term support in place for these individuals when they are ready for it," she told the American Psychological Association's Monitor on Psychology. Those who were the most directly exposed to a shooting are the most likely to experience PTSD, according to a study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. Prior trauma exposure also predisposes survivors to PTSD.
"When an individual believes they have done something wrong by surviving a tragic event where others have died or otherwise succumbed, survivor guilt takes hold," clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, PhD, wrote in Psychology Today. "It can manifest across the spectrum, from bittersweet feelings to all-out despair. Most commonly, survivor guilt occurs after a large-scale catastrophe (like battlefield deaths or plane crashes), but it can also pop up in unexpected ways." She provided a variety of advice on dealing with survivor's guilt, including asking yourself who is truly responsible.
Members of the Parkland community said it is an important time to remind young people that there are resources they can use if they need help. A group called Professionals United for Parkland works to connect the community with mental-health professionals. On April 1, the Children's Services Council of Broward County and United Way of Broward County are planning to open Eagles' Haven, a wellness center for the MSD community that will offer support groups for students and families, as well as yoga, meditation, and more, described as "a place for all of us to come together to rediscover wellness and restore hope."
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.
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