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News about a mass shooting can bring on shock, horror or disbelief, and, sadly, these incidents are becoming more frequent—and closer to home.
As details of an incident emerge you may experience a range of emotions. Anger at the perpetrator, confusion over the person’s motives, sadness for those who were hurt or killed, and fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time yourself someday. The unpredictable nature of these types of incidents adds to our fear and threatens our sense of safety and security.
“There’s that sense of security, that sense of safety that is shaken when violence occurs anywhere in our world, let alone our community. We often feel initial feelings of sadness and anger for those directly affected, and we may experience feelings of worry and fear for the safety of our loved ones. These feelings speak to our humanness and our values,” says Ian Evans, LCPC, with Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.
In situations like this, there are things you can do to ground yourself and think more clearly.
It’s normal to have intense feelings after a tragic event. It’s also normal for those feelings to resurface or appear for the first time weeks or months afterward. If you find yourself struggling with anger, anxiety, sleep issues or mood or energy changes, it’s important to talk to a professional.
“While people may be resilient and have good support and good coping strategies, that doesn’t mean they should navigate through this on their own,” says Lindsay Fazio, Ph.D., wellbeing coordinator and psychologist with NorthShore University HealthSystem. “If you had a broken leg, you wouldn’t just say, ’I’m going to tape it up and get through this.’ Mental health should be thought of the same way. When we have stress or struggle, you go to the experts.”
Helping children cope after a tragic event
Children may also be affected emotionally if they hear about tragic events. Young kids don’t need lengthy explanations or details. Older children and teens could benefit from deeper conversation.
“Parents should start off by asking what they’ve heard and how they feel about it. That’s a good way to figure out where your child’s at and how they’re doing,” says Dr. Julie Holland, pediatrician with NorthShore University HealthSystem.
Kids who are emotionally upset often exhibit physical symptoms.
“Kids may have trouble sleeping. They may have headaches or stomachaches. They may be more clingy or irritable. Those are all red flags that a child is emotionally affected,” says Dr. Holland.
Some kids tend to withdraw when they’re emotionally upset, Fazio says. Some become hungrier, some lose their appetite.
“When adults or parents talk to kids, it’s important to reinforce the idea that violence is not a solution. There are other ways to be proactive and help fix the problem,” Fazio says.
If you feel like you need emotional support, check this list of local and regional mental health resources.
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