The mental health effects of mass shootings can reverberate in communities. As people learn of the King Soopers shooting in Boulder on Monday and mourn the 10 people who were killed, psychologists say it’s normal to feel the brunt of the aggravating trauma.
Metro Denver has one of the highest per capita mass shooting rates in the country since 1999. The trauma of shootings in public places can still be acute for many people affected directly and indirectly.
Frank DeAngelis was the principal of Columbine High School during the 1999 shooting. He said it was disheartening to experience the roller coaster of emotion more than 20 years later.
“People all of a sudden feel like, ‘Damn, you know, this is the best I’ve felt in a while.’ And then something happens … they’re re-traumatized and triggers are set. And I can’t tell you how many former Columbine employees have contacted me today to register or to say, ” Boy, I don’t know how you feel, but it brought him back to that time, “DeAngelis says.
This is consistent with what psychologists have learned about how people experience traumatic events.
“What we know about trauma is that it tends to trigger experiences that we have had directly or indirectly that were similar or frightening, and our central nervous system doesn’t really differentiate between necessarily what is happening. happening now and some of the things that have happened in the past, ”said Rick Ginsberg, licensed psychologist and past president of the Colorado Psychological Association.
In the wake of another shooting, it means memories of past traumatic events come back to them.
“It can be extremely overwhelming and distressing for people and deregulate,” Ginsberg said.
These tensions are aggravated by the pandemic. Many people live with heightened awareness of risk as they also face death, illness, relationship stress and economic crisis. But Ginsberg said people may not realize how stressed they are.
“People get used to stressful events… They persevere through them and they don’t really know how much it affects them psychologically,” Ginsberg said. “Many of us have experienced incredible trauma and distress from the pandemic alone. On top of that, people feel the fear and uncertainty of going out into the world. And that is compounded, of course, by these kinds of terrible events that are happening. “
Ginsberg offered a perspective on how people can take care of their mental health right now.
Even though other people “live worse,” the pain is not relative:
“Everyone experiences pain and suffering and trauma in their own way, and it really doesn’t help any of us to try to compare that to anyone else. We all struggle with the distress and trauma when we hear about things like this horrific and senseless shooting and other tragedies, and so we really have to try to take care of ourselves, deal with our own emotions, understand what is our own distress as we go ahead and try to be kind and gentle to ourselves.
It can help start conversations about how the trauma is affecting you and ask people how they feel, including children:
“We want to make sure that we give ourselves and others the opportunity to talk about things. And being able to speak, write or express our feelings is irrefutable. It just makes us healthier, especially in times of trauma. So I would say, make sure you open the doors for people to talk to each other, to talk to the kids.
Distractions count as personal care:
“Practice a lot of self-care. It can be anything from walking to exercising, meditating, expressing creatively, writing things down. Anything that falls into this category of self-care is wonderful, including the distraction. “
It is important to be aware of how the trauma may affect you, distress signals in your mood or body:
“It really covers the whole gamut from things that are almost undetectable to things that cripple us … It can be anything, you don’t sleep as well as usual, you’re not as optimistic as you used to be.” , you are a little more irritable … at things that become more noticeable. You are therefore short of friends, relatives in your relationships. You have difficulty concentrating at work. If you find yourself addicted to more substances or any type of compulsive behavior, this is a sign that you are looking for a feeling of calming or something that will numb you a bit. And then at the high end of those distress signals, there are things like major depression or anxiety attacks, a lot of avoidance of place, an obsession with things.
You may feel uncomfortable in places you go to regularly, this is normal:
“Anything from apprehension to apprehension to outright fear of going out into the world and places you might visit on a regular basis is really normal in these kinds of situations. It can range from feeling a little more psychologically irritable, to feeling some muscle tension, to being short of breath and having something that looks like a panic attack or an outright panic attack. So the first piece of advice I think clinicians give people is to be really aware of what they’re going through physically and emotionally, and then take your time to expose yourself to these new situations.
You can get professional help whether you are feeling ‘really stuck’ or proactively making contact:
Ginsberg said primary care physicians can be a good place to start for advice on finding a mental health clinician. He also recommended county and city community health centers, as well as looking for licensed counselors in online directories, including the Colorado Psychological Association.