After three more major shootings, a nation faces collective trauma

After three more major shootings, a nation faces collective trauma


As Americans grapple with three major shootings in less than two weeks, many are expressing a combination of fear, anger and resignation that gun violence has become part of normal life in the United States.

“There’s this feeling that it’s part of the collective experience. It’s scary that this is becoming normal,” said Kayla M. Johnson, a licensed psychologist in Tomball, Texas. “It happens and we’re like, ‘Oh, man. What a shame,” and two weeks pass and people stop talking about it, and then it happens again.

“I had a client who just said to me, ‘You know, I’m a little desensitized to this,'” said Steve Alexander Jr., a licensed mental health counselor in Brooklyn. don’t know if that’s a bad thing or a good thing.’ ”

Michelle Slater, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice in Jacksonville, Florida, said that in recent years her clients have expressed feelings of helplessness and helplessness.

“It’s just one more thing for them to feel that this system isn’t working — that now we’re not safe in our grocery stores or our churches,” she said. “Then, on the other hand, I see a lot of disengagement from that. How many shots can we cry in a week? People are too tired to care.

The scourge of gun violence is likely to be a topic of conversation at many holiday tables this Thanksgiving. The recent incidents began with the shooting deaths of three football players at the University of Virginia, allegedly by a classmate. Then a gunman opened fire at Club Q, a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five people. More recently, police said a Walmart employee opened fire on his co-workers, killing six people and injuring six others.

While some diners may think gun violence isn’t the right thing to discuss at a dinner party, talking about the tragedies with family and friends is a good coping strategy, Johnson said.

“I don’t care if it’s a holiday or if it brings down the mood,” she said. “People need to say they miss their loved one or they’re mad at the state of the world. The only thing we can do is validate people’s experience of this. This is real fear and real grief that needs to be seen, seen and shared.

At the same time, if the conversation seems overwhelming, you can also walk away, said Arron Muller, a licensed clinical social worker in Valley Stream, NY “If you need to walk away for a minute and go to another room, feel encouraged to do so,” he said.

One of the reasons recent violent events have a powerful impact on many people’s mental health is that they happened in spaces where people generally feel safe, said Pooja Sharma, a clinical psychologist at Berkeley. , in California.

The shooting happened at “a club where people go to hook up and hang out at night, and a store where people go to work and do some pre-holiday shopping,” Sharma said. “When our safe place becomes the site of trauma, we as a society cannot rely on those places to provide safety, which leads to unpredictable distress and confusion.”

Therapists note that violent events can be traumatic even for those not directly affected by them, especially for people who have experienced trauma in the past. And many people haven’t had time to process recent events and might start to do so during the holidays.

Elizabeth Rieger, a licensed social worker in Beavercreek, Ohio, said one of her LGBTQ clients suffered from trauma after the Club Q shooting.

“She struggles with the fact that she was very marginalized in her own family because she was LGBTQ+ and was never allowed to live her real, authentic life,” Rieger said. “Hearing about what happened at Club Q is even more traumatic for her because of her life experience.”

Black therapists say they have developed an unfortunate expertise in counseling people of color who often do not feel safe in their communities or public spaces because of police brutality, racism and microaggressions in the workplace. .

Muller, who specializes in the mental health and well-being of black men, said compounded trauma disproportionately affects people of color — not just during national tragedies, but in everyday life. “There’s always this hypervigilance, this hyperawareness where you may not be as present, or you may just have this lingering heaviness,” he said.

Lakeasha Sullivan, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Atlanta, said it was important for people to feel emotions such as hopelessness.

“On the other side of despair, there’s justifiable anger and rage at the situation. These are the emotions that shouldn’t be turned off because we can use them constructively,” she said. anger in this way helps us keep pushing for change and helps us set limits around how we allow ourselves and others to be treated. And it is the most powerful way to deal with situations of this magnitude.

The key, experts say, is to not let these emotions become destructive.

“Allow yourself to feel, but don’t allow yourself to live in it. Develop an action plan to deal with those emotions,” Muller said.

Several experts said it was a good idea to take social media and news breaks during traumatic events. Muller said distractions like going to a museum or reading a book can help. Sharma suggested exercising, cooking, gardening and listening to music. Prayer, for those who are religious, as well as meditation and seeking support from loved ones can all help.

“If you’re thinking about something going on in the world and you can’t get that thought out of your head, try redirecting yourself,” Rieger said. “Take a walk. Reach out to people. Get yourself a book that will help redirect you, or watch a TV series that will distract your mind from thinking about what you heard on the news this morning.

A common emotion after tragic events is a sense of helplessness, experts say. Focusing on things over which you have some control can help. Planning for emergencies, noting where to find emergency exits, thinking about how you might protect yourself in dangerous situations are all ways to deal with feelings of helplessness, Johnson said.

“Creating a sense of control over a situation, knowing where the exits are, it gives a certain sense of control,” she said.

Another way to feel in control is to focus your energy on volunteering and helping your community, Slater said.

“The antidote is altruism,” she said. “Maybe we can’t stop gun violence across the country, but what can we do in our community to uplift people, to give back, to be part of something that feels good?”

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