School Shootings and Mental Health

Our country has, once again, been devastated by a violent attack on innocent people.  On Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was the scene of a brutal assault where 17 students and teachers were killed, and 14 others injured.  This is the eighth shooting to have resulted in death or injury during the first seven weeks of 2018.  As a country, we mourn the loss of life and the forfeiture of safety.   And we wonder, when will the violence end?  A school shooting is a terrible and traumatic event for parents, students and the community as a whole. The violence that strikes the community after such an event stuns the nation and is a grim reminder that violent acts can strike in the most unexpected places and can endanger even the youngest lives.

Although we are resilient and often bounce back after difficult times, these events nearly always interrupt our sense of order and safety. The impact often extends to individuals who live far outside of the affected area with no personal connections to the event. This is especially true when the event is human-caused with the intent of harming others. Even counselors with advanced training can become overwhelmed by the intensity of these tragic events.

In the aftermath of this shooting, Haven would like to provide some tips and resources for counselors and those who are affected:

  • Attend to self-care. While it may seem counterintuitive to think about taking care of yourself first, you cannot be of service to others if you are unstable. Monitor all of your physical health needs – being sure to eat, sleep, exercise, and (if possible) maintain a normal daily routine.
  • Pay attention to your emotional health. Remember that a wide range of feelings during these difficult times are common. Know that others are also experiencing emotional reactions and may need your time and patience to put their feelings and thoughts in order.
  • Try to recognize when you or those around you may need extra support.It is not uncommon for individuals of all ages to experience stress reactions when exposed (even through media) to shootings or mass violence. Changes in eating and sleeping habits, energy level, and mood are important signs of distress. Watch for regressed behaviors, such as clinging in children and intense emotional reactions, such as anxiety or a strong need for retribution in adults. When necessary, point individuals to licensed professional counselors who can provide needed support.
  • Avoid overexposure to media. While it is important to stay informed, media portrayals of shootings and mass deaths have been shown to cause acute stress and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Limit your exposure and take a break from news sources.
  • Maintain contact with friends and family. These individuals can provide you with emotional support to help deal with difficult times.
  • Focus on your strength base. Maintain practices that you have found to provide emotional relief. Remind yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting.
  • Talk to others as needed. It is important to ask for help if you are having trouble recovering and everyday tasks seem difficult to manage.

Here are some resources counselors can use to find out more about coping with mass violence: