You don’t have to be a victim of one of the latest mass shootings to be affected by them. Just hearing the news about the incidents in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, can cause anxiety, fear and a host of other emotions. And, for people sending children back to school this month, there’s an even heightened sense of sensitivity to such tragic events.
Failing to recognize these feelings and how to cope with them can begin to negatively affect your life and possibly hinder your daily performance as a Texas Children’s employee, parent, spouse or friend. Director of Texas Children’s Trauma and Grief Center and Texas Children’s Chief of Psychology Dr. Julie Kaplow assures employees they are not alone if they feel this way and recommends several tips on how to deal with the after-effects of a large-scale violent event.
Can mass shootings like the ones that recently occurred in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, affect people who are not directly impacted, and if so, how?
Whenever a mass shooting occurs, there’s often this sense of mortality, where you recognize that these things can and do happen. For many people, these events can change your world view a little bit. Generally speaking, we walk around feeling fairly secure in our environment, almost like there’s an invisible shield surrounding and protecting us, and then when something tragic or terrifying happens, it makes people feel more on edge, more hypervigilant, more worried or anxious.
How can people constructively deal with their feelings and emotions surrounding tragic events such as the recent mass shootings?
Social support is probably the No. 1 protective factor in the aftermath of any sort of disaster, including man-made disasters or acts of violence. Being around friends and family, people who can support you, is critical after something like this. We also need to be aware of the fact that for those who have a history of trauma, even if the traumatic event occurred many years ago, violent and distressing events like this can be triggering, meaning that oftentimes, even the physiological reaction you have to a mass shooting can remind you of the same physiological reaction you had to another event that happened years ago. Recognizing that these events often have a psychological impact, even if you weren’t directly involved, is key. Also, recognizing what safety precautions and measures are in place in your work environment or in your neighborhood can be comforting and can help to alleviate feelings of distress.
Should parents talk to their children about such events, and if so, what is the best way to go about doing so?
The most important thing, when talking to children about these events, is to let them guide the conversation. Oftentimes parents either err on the side of not sharing at all, or give a little too much detail and information. If developmentally appropriate, you can introduce the topic by saying something like, “You may have heard about something upsetting that happened in El Paso. Do you have any questions for me about that?” Then, let the child guide the rest of the conversation, revealing what they need to know as opposed to information that might be too overwhelming. Throughout the conversation, keep in mind that children mainly need to feel that they are safe and secure, and that the adults in their lives are going to take care of them. Caregivers can also remind them that even though bad things happen, there are lots of helpers out there who are looking out for them and protecting them.
Since opening in 2017, you and your team with the Texas Children’s Trauma and Grief (TAG) Center have launched two high-profile programs to provide ongoing support and healing to families impacted by Hurricane Harvey and the Sante Fe school shooting tragedy. Will your team be going to El Paso?
We have reached out to the El Paso community and the individuals who are on the ground providing assistance there to let them know we are ready and willing to help when and if we’re needed. Right now, the El Paso community is in the critical incident stress management stage, and our TAG team typically becomes involved a bit later in the process, focusing primarily on mental health needs assessment, training/consultation to community providers, intervention planning, and/or longer term recovery among families who have been impacted. So, we are really looking at being able to help two to three months down the road.
What can people do if they feel like their feelings surrounding such events are becoming too much to handle?
If someone is starting to feel like their anxiety is infringing on their ability to function in daily life, for example if they’re having trouble getting out of bed in the morning, going to work, or if they’re afraid to leave the house, then they should reach out to a trained, trauma-informed therapist for an evaluation and possible treatment. Some other red flags to look for are: constantly being on edge, having nightmares, trouble sleeping, trouble eating, engaging in risk-taking behaviors such as drinking excessively, or other forms of substance abuse. Someone exhibiting any of these feelings or behaviors would likely benefit from an evaluation.
Texas Children’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) team has completed trauma and grief training with Kaplow, and is currently working with the Trauma and Grief team to develop a grief support group for Texas Children’s employees. EAP Manager Allison Bell said the team regularly provides counseling services to employees and eligible dependents with both concerns.
“Along with stress, grief is one of the top reasons that employees come to EAP,” Bell said. “Texas Children’s staff have tough jobs that have difficult and sad endings at times, and the EAP is there to support them. We provide EAP support to individuals, as well as entire units after critical incidents.”
EAP developed and manages Texas Children’s Tandem Support Team, which is designed to help employees cope with serious patient-related events such as errors, unanticipated outcomes or even patient deaths. Trained peer volunteers on the support team are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to offer guidance and reassurance to colleagues dealing with the profound emotions of stress, fatigue and blame that often occur after difficult events.
With EAP Plus, an enhanced program launched in January, employees and their families also have round-the-clock access to a certified counselor and confident emotional support services in their community for grief in the workplace, stress reduction and many more concerns.
For more information about EAP resources or to receive assistance with managing trauma and grief, contact the team at 832-824-3327. Additional details about EAP Plus, the Tandem Support Team and other services and programs – including a helpful brochure on how to cope after a traumatic incident and support fellow team members who have been affected – are available on the EAP page on Connect.
“The best way to deliver on Texas Children’s mission to provide exemplary care is to ensure our employees have the resources and support they need to build rewarding careers and lead healthy lives,” said Vice President Jermaine Monroe. “EAP is an important part of our focus on the total well-being of our workforce, and living compassionately as an organization that truly cares for our people and their families.”