By Maggie Bennington-Davis, MD, Chief Medical & Operations Officer of Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare
The shooting in Connecticut is horrible, and is likely affecting all of us in varying ways. Many of us are also much affected by the shooting at the Clackamas mall – both in our own lives and those of our clients. These experiences are inherently complex and occur in a wide variety of contexts – our prior experiences of violence, our ages, our temperaments, whether we have kids, our own concepts of violence, the communities in which we reside. Each of us may feel more or less upset, more or less angry, more or less scared, depending on many factors. Keep in mind that culture is closely interwoven with traumatic experience, response, and recovery, so a very wide variety of reactions within and among communities is also to be expected.
At the root of these reactions are the feelings of danger and safety, and seeking to feel safe once again – whether by withdrawal from going to malls or schools, or by thoughts of how these situations are rare, or a myriad of other thoughts and feelings – becomes a primary motivator for much of what we do and say in the immediate aftermath of such events. Because the shooters in both of these situations are dead, people may feel especially unresolved about how to “do something” to feel safe.
This is a traumatic time for us, as a nation and as Oregonians. It is important to understand the potential impact on our lives, and remind ourselves of how to cope.
For those who are also parents wondering how to support your kids, first and foremost – kids need to feel SAFE and to be reassured that someone is available to take care of them. Parents can help both themselves and their children most by listening, and reassuring them that they are safe and that the parents (or other key adults in their lives) are going to take care of them. Talking TO your children about their reactions and fear is less helpful than LISTENING to them. In his address to the nation on following the Connecticut shooting, President Obama said, “Tonight I will do what every parent will do – go home and hug my kids.” In a nutshell, that is indeed what all parents should do. It is the best thing for our kids.
An excellent website that has many suggestions on how to help kids cope is the National Children’s Traumatic Stress Network. Another document that offers talking points regarding school safety for children authored by the National Association of School Psychologists can be found at http://www.nasponline.org/resources/handouts/revisedPDFs/talkingviolence.pdf.
As well, SAMHSA has an excellent guide: Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event, A Guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers
Cascadia’s Urgent Walk-In Clinic on the corner of SE 43rd and SE Division in Portland is ready and able to talk with anyone (regardless of insurance or ability to pay) about their reactions to these recent tragedies. Hours of operation are from 7am to 10:30pm every day of the week.
Additionally, for mental health emergencies, call:
- Multnomah County Call Center: 503-988-4888
- Washington County Crisis Line: 503-291-9111
- Clackamas County Crisis Line: 503-655-8585
And, be sure to be aware of your own reactions, and be patient with yourselves – understand you may experience changes in your mood, sleep, anxiety, irritability, and energy. Here are some ideas for how to cope:
- Mobilize your support networks. Talk about how you’re feeling.
- Participate in your neighborhood / community discussions, vigils, and rituals.
- If you need professional support, have a low threshold for doing so.
- Remind yourself that you are safe now.
- Stick to your normal routines.
- Limit your exposure to news and images of these events.
Our entire nation is experiencing this tragedy. Take care of yourselves – and each other.