Coping with Mass Violence: Monarch’s Mental Health Expert Offers Tips to Handle Tragedy

The recent mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio, claiming a total of 34 lives, can prompt an array of feelings for those watching traumatic events unfold and in the days that follow.

Coping with mass violence and working to overcome disasters, adversity or tragedies can be overwhelming. After mass shootings like the recent ones, individuals may feel a wide range of emotions which is normal.

Monarch therapists advise never to ignore those feelings.

The constant coverage and images on television can trigger a reaction known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for people who have been through similar experiences. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines PTSD as a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) symptoms that someone may not be recovering from a traumatic event can range from anxiety, constant worrying, trouble sleeping and other depression-like symptoms. These can be common responses to a disasterous event such as a mass shooting. Full on panic attacks may be experienced in which the person feels that he or she is in life-threatening, immediate danger.

Monarch Behavioral Health Therapist and Mindfulness Expert Jude Johnson offers ways to help manage the stress which can accompany a sudden, horrific event. The practice of mindfulness teaches how to be aware of feelings without judgment.

“It is wise to be informed and prepared. On the other hand, it is not helpful to check the news feed every hour,” said Johnson. “Obsessing can lead to increased anxiety and frantic decision-making. When stress becomes unmanageable, it is harder for us to understand what others are saying and can be equally challenging for us to communicate our ideas clearly.”

Johnson suggests that it is helpful to surround yourself with people who are willing to listen to your feelings and provide comfort. “We are social creatures and thrive when we can provide and receive support from one another. Sometimes disasters like this provide an opportunity for us to help each other, which can take our busy minds away from what has gone wrong and place our focus on helping others,” he remarked. “If we are unable to provide support to others, then it may be wise for us just to allow ourselves to feel what we feel with as much self-compassion as possible.”

The following are additional suggestions to assist adults, parents and children to explore ways to manage, maintain and restore normalcy following a catastrophe or traumatic event:

  • How you’re feeling, it’s natural. Realize that any anxiety, sadness, anger or distress you are feeling, no matter how many miles between you and any tragedy, is a natural reaction to a tragedy of this kind and magnitude.
  • Shut off the TV. Media coverage of tragic events can in and of itself cause strong emotional reactions for both children and adults.
  • Encourage the conversation. A certain amount of processing of events like this is healthy for adults, teens and children. Let the conversation happen.
  • Get your mind off it. Distraction is one of the best coping methods. Exercise, see a movie or sporting event or play a board game.
  • Spend time with loved ones. Some of our greatest assets are our family and friends. If you are feeling down or troubled, spend some time with someone you love.
  • Lean on your faith. Many people find strength in a higher power during times of national tragedy.
  • Connect with a professional. If you are overwhelmed by your feelings, contact Monarch at 866-272-7826 to schedule an appointment with a local mental health professional or call the SAMHSA helpline at 800-985-5990.

In addition to the ones mentioned, and linked, above, the following organizations offer important resources to assist in coping and overcoming crisis:

The National Council for Behavioral Health

American Psychological Association (APA)