After a tragedy like Highland Park mass shooting, communities must mobilize to deal with trauma
I am from Newtown, Connecticut, where Sandy Hook happened. I send kudos to Highland Park for quickly responding to the mental health needs of their residents.
Nearly a decade ago, our community of Newtown, Connecticut, experienced the horrors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. As a mental health advocate and community communication specialist, I immediately saw how little we were prepared for the emotional impact of this tragedy.
Newtown is not alone. Most towns and cities have medical response plans that immediately go into effect when a disaster occurs. Nearly no communities have a comparable plan for mental health intervention.
As a result, within six weeks, about 25% of those impacted will have post-traumatic stress disorder if they don’t receive trauma-informed care. To make matters worse, some of the most vulnerable populations at greatest risk of long-term trauma are already trying to cope with other major stressors such as COVID-19, financial concerns and overall national instability.
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This is why I send kudos to Highland Park for quickly responding to the mental health needs of their residents. At the press conference following the July 4th shooting, survivors and the wider community were encouraged to attend sessions with local mental health professionals who were available starting the next day. I also read an article saying that several surviving fathers have formed a support group. This is the first time I have seen a community so purposefully confront the possibility of emotional trauma very early on. I was truly heartened by this.
In 2020, I co-authored a book encouraging communities to prepare for the psychological impact of mass violence or a natural disaster. Understandably, with a million deaths from COVID, our emphasis has been on medical care. However, we are now in the midst of a mental health crisis where at-risk populations — children, young adults, low-income and disenfranchised people — are truly suffering.
First, people must learn the signs of trauma, such as increased anger, nightmares, loss of appetite, and severe depression or anxiety. These individuals need to seek immediate help. Others with fewer symptoms need to seek wellness activities such as yoga and meditation. The psychological changes should not be ignored. Ten years after Sandy Hook and much longer after Columbine, some survivors were still negatively impacted by recent shootings.
Mental health needs to become a natural concern after any calamity. Highland Park understands the brain-body connection and its importance.
Sharon L. Cohen, Newtown, Connecticut
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