SCCAP/Resources for Dealing with a School Shooting/Psychological First Aid

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This page serves as a psychological first aid resource that describes the immediate consequences and coping mechanisms for dealing with a school shooting.

Experiencing a trauma is likely to affect you in many ways. There are the immediate consequences that might include losing people you were close to, such as experiencing new fears, feeling angry, and not knowing what to do now that your life has changed in an important way. People will respond to trauma in different ways and will be affected to different degrees. This depends on a lot of factors, including age, previous experience with trauma, available support, and even biological factors, like hormones. There isn't a "right" or "wrong" way to react. The important thing is to pay attention to changes in your mental and physical health and ask for the help you need.

The effects of trauma aren't always negative - some people will experience what is called "post-traumatic growth," and some people will be relatively unchanged months after the trauma. There is no reason to assume that you will have long-term negative consequences. Getting help early is a good way to reduce the chances of longer term problems. Here are some ways a traumatic event might affect you:

What to expect[edit]

As you are recovering from a traumatic event, you/your caregiver/friends/family may be experiencing various feelings and changes in response to the event. These are normal, and may change as time passes. Here is a summary of responses in the recovery period after a traumatic event [1]:

Negative Responses Positive Responses
Cognitive Confusion, disorientation, worry, unwanted thoughts and images, self-blame Focused, alert
Emotional Shock, sadness, fear, anger, guilt Motivated, determined, courageous, optimistic
Social Withdrawal from others, conflict Increased connectedness, involvement in helping behaviors
Physiological Headache, stomachache, fast heartbeat, trouble sleeping Increased energy, ready to respond


One Week After a Traumatic Event

It is common to feel...[2]

  • Anxiety, fear, and worry
  • Decrease in attention and concentration
  • Increase in irritability and anger
  • Sadness, grief, and/or withdrawal
  • Radical changes in attitudes and expectations for the future o Increases or decreases in sleep and appetite
  • Engaging in harmful habits like drinking, using drugs, or doing things that are harmful to self or others
  • Lack of interest in usual activities, including how they spend time with friends

It is also common over time to…[2]

  • Physical complaints (headaches, stomach aches, aches and pains)
  • Changes in school and work-related habits and behavior with peers and family
  • Staying focused on the shooting (talking repeatedly about it)
  • Strong reactions to reminders of the shooting (seeing friends who were also present during shooting, media images, smoke, police, memorials)
  • Increased sensitivity to sounds (loud noises, screaming)

Things to do now[2]

    • Take care of yourself. Stay healthy, drink plenty of water, eat regularly, and get enough sleep and exercise.
    • Help each other. Take time with other adult relatives, friends, or members of the community to talk or support each other.
    • Put off major decisions. Avoid making any unnecessary life-altering decisions during this time.
    • Give yourself a break. Take time to rest and let yourself have fun. Limit your use of media--excessive coverage of the traumatic event can be triggering, so focus on activities and relationships you enjoy.

Strategies for self-care & relaxation

What to do during this time

  • Maintain expectations or rules - keep a sense of stability present[2]
    • Maintain a normal classroom[3]
    • Provide a calm, supportive environment[3]
  • Look for changes in behavior[2]

Common reactions may still be present[2]

  • Feelings of anxiety, fear, and worry about the safety of self and others
  • Fears that another shooting may occur
  • Changes in behavior
    • Increase in activity level
    • Decrease in concentration and attention
    • Increase in irritability and anger
    • Sadness, grief, and/or withdrawal
  • Radical changes in attitudes and expectations for the future Increases or decreases in sleep and appetite
  • Engaging in harmful habits like drinking, using drugs, or doing things that are harmful to self or others
  • Lack of interest in usual activities, including how they spend time with friends
  • Physical complaints (headaches, stomach aches, aches and pains)
  • Changes in school and work-related habits and behavior with peers and family
  • Staying focused on the shooting (talking repeatedly about it)
  • Strong reactions to reminders of the shooting (seeing friends who were also present during shooting, media images, smoke, police, memorials) Increased sensitivity to sounds (loud noises, screaming)


One Month Following a Traumatic Event
  • Monitor for major changes in behavior[2]
    • Changes in school and work-related habits and behavior with peers and family
    • Acting out
    • Changes in relationships
  • Seek professional help[2]


Positive Ways to Cope

[4]] Connect with Other People Being around other people can be a big help after experiencing a traumatic event

  • It isn't necessary to talk about what happened; just being close to other people is helpful
  • It's OK to tell other people that they can support you just by spending time with you
  • If other people want to talk about the event and you don't, it's OK to wait until you're ready

Talking about what happened can be helpful

  • If you do want to talk about what occurred, let others know
  • Think about who would be best to talk to, someone who is a good listener might offer the most support
  • Don't worry about upsetting other people; if you want, you can ask when would be a good time to talk, so the other person is prepared for the topic
  • Choose a quiet time in a private place where you can have the conversation
  • Feeling strong emotions is natural and it can be helpful to express these emotions

It can be hard to admit that you need help or want support

  • Getting support early and often is likely to reduce the negative impact of the trauma on you in the long term
  • It takes strength and insight to know when you need help and to ask for it
  • Other people are usually eager to help when something bad happens, but may not know what to say or do - asking for help can make it easier for them to offer support
  • Giving others a chance to do something nice for you is likely to make both of you feel better
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Lashing out
  • Being reckless
  • Your family and friends are a good place to start
  • Counselors, doctors, nurses, coaches - these professionals are all in the business of helping people. Even if their role has nothing to do with what you're going through, they can offer support and help you connect with services that might benefit you.
  • Crisis hotlines - There are lots of options, including both phone and text
  • Pets are great listeners!
  • Try out a new activity - This will help broaden your social circle and can be a helpful distraction
  • Volunteer - Helping other people can be a powerful way of feeling connected
  • Join a support group - Talking with other people who were affected by the same (or a similar) event, can be especially helpful
  • Try relaxation techniques


When to Seek Professional Help

Sometimes it is necessary to get help from someone who is trained to assist people who have experienced a trauma. Although it is normal to experience significant changes in functioning just after a trauma, if you haven't gotten back to your normal self months after the event - or if you feel you would benefit from talking to someone with expertise - search for a therapist who can help.

If you are experiencing some of the following symptoms months after the event, it would be smart to make an appointment - there is no benefit to suffering.

  • Repeated, disturbing images related to the event
  • Feeling that the event is happening again
  • Avoiding talking or hearing about the event
  • Feeling emotionally numb or disconnected from other people
  • Loss of interest in activities or people that you normally enjoy
  • Feeling irritable or "on edge" all the time
  • Constantly being on the lookout for another bad event
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep or frequent nightmares
  • Feeling detached, like you're not really participating in life
  • Relying on alcohol or drugs to escape negative thoughts and feelings
  • If you are having any thoughts about hurting yourself or another person


Resources for People Close to Survivors
  • Reach out to the people who were affected. You might worry that you are going to upset someone by reminding them about what happened. It is already on their mind, asking how they are doing and offering to listen or spend time with them will show them that you care and that they have support. There is no risk in that.
  • Reach out again. Of course you don't want to be a pest, but it can be very hard for people to access support after a trauma, giving them multiple opportunities and letting them know you continue to be there for them can be really helpful, even if they don't respond at the time.
  • Ask what the person needs. You probably don't know what the other person needs or wants, so ask. Some people may want to talk about the traumatic event and others won't. Follow their lead.
  • Be judgment-free. Trauma affects people in different ways; some may immediately go back to their routine, others will need to take time to get back to their obligations. There is no "right" way.
  • Be patient. It may take a long time for someone to return to their usual self, or they may be forever changed. Giving them time to reset and establish themselves post-trauma can be a valuable way of showing support.
  • Be positive. Let the person know that you believe they will be OK and that they will rebuild a positive, fulfilling life.
  • Seek professional guidance. If the person close to you becomes withdrawn or is engaging in troubling behaviors, it is OK to admit that you can't provide all the help they need. Even if you don't think they will agree to see a professional, talking to someone might help you offer them more effective support. If you are worried about someone's safety, don't hesitate to get outside assistance.

Because it's hard to know what to do when someone experiences a trauma, sometimes people do things that are unintentionally harmful:

  • Putting pressure on the person to "get over it" or get back to their routine. This can make the person feel like their response is abnormal or that they are interfering with other people's lives. In an effort to "get over it," they might avoid the topic or keep emotions bottled up, which is more likely to lead to long term problems.
  • Relating what happened to the person to something that happened to you. It is natural to share your own experiences to create a connection, but in the case of traumatic events, this can often serve to minimize the impact and make the person reluctant to further talking about it. It's OK to say, "I can't imagine what you're going through, and I'm so sorry this happened."
  • Avoiding the topic. It can be hard to hear about details of traumatic events or to discuss the same thing multiple times, but it's important for people affected to have opportunities to process what happened to them. If it gets to be too much for you, try talking to someone else about your reactions, so you also get support.
  • Acting surprised that the person is still affected. People are affected differently and it is important to acknowledge that without comparing one person's response to another.
  • Engaging in problem-solving. Offering solutions can make us feel more helpful, but in the case of a trauma, it can feel dismissive. Try to just listen to the other person and voice your support for them. If you have ideas for things that you think would help them, you can say something like, "When you're ready, I have some thoughts about how you could deal with problem X."
  • Telling them they are lucky. It is never lucky to experience a trauma. While there can be different outcomes for different people, pointing this out is not a helpful gesture. Expressing empathy and condolences is a more effective way of offering support.
  • Help your child feel safe by talking with them about their concerns[2]
  • Watch for/monitor any major changes in behavior[2]
  • Maintain expectations or rules - keep a sense of stability present. Watch for any increased dependence - on alcohol, drugs, etc.[2]
  • Limit the use of media[2]
  • Encourage the practice of self-care[2]
  • Get others involved (child included)[2]
  • Provide emotional support[3]
    • Help provide grief counseling
  • Provide resources and recommendations[3]
  • Help with coping[5]
    • Children/Teens may not always voice their feelings, issues If a caregiver, try not to be too overbearing with the child after the event
  • Avoid acting in an overbearing way after the event[6]
  • Find more resources to learn how to best support your child

For educators:[7]

  • Develop relationships with students to open up more channels from which they can benefit
  • Actively implement strategies to promote the emotional well-being of students
  • Avoid belittling mental health issues in education
  • Open discussion of current social and racial issues that need addressing
  • For more information and resources:

https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors/professional-development/learn-more/shooting-resources https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/SCCAP/Resources_for_Dealing_with_a_School_Shooting


Risk Assessment and Prevention

In addition to dealing with the aftermath of a shooting, schools should consider prevention efforts such as threat assessment. There are troubled students who will be stimulated by a shooting (or any similar event) to consider doing the same thing. Schools should be receptive to their cries for help and intervene. At the same time, schools will be highly sensitive and prone to over-reacting to some student misbehavior, such as threatening statements made in jest. Schools need a way to distinguish serious from non-serious threats[8] and take an appropriate course of action that helps students in need of support services. Resources are available to guide risk assessments [1], with evidence showing how they can help.[9]

References[edit]

  1. http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/pfa/english/appendix_e3_when_terrible_things_happen.pdf
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/parents_guidelines_for_helping_teens_after_the_recent_attacks.pdf
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/pfa_for_schools_appendix_a_teachers.pdf
  4. "Breathing Techniques for Stress Relief". WebMD. Retrieved 2018-04-08.
  5. http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/helping_teens_with_traumatic_grief_caregivers_final.pdf
  6. http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/pfa/school/13-PFA_for_Schools_family_coping_parents.pdf
  7. https://www.myajc.com/blog/get-schooled/teacher-how-can-prevent-the-next-school-shooting/cCPXDtmeBc7EsESCstZE5O/
  8. Burnette, Anna Grace; Datta, Pooja; Cornell, Dewey (2018-03). "The distinction between transient and substantive student threats." (in en). Journal of Threat Assessment and Management 5 (1): 4–20. doi:10.1037/tam0000092. ISSN 2169-4850. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tam0000092. 
  9. Cornell, Dewey; Maeng, Jennifer L.; Burnette, Anna Grace; Jia, Yuane; Huang, Francis; Konold, Timothy; Datta, Pooja; Malone, Marisa et al. (2017-08-17). "Student Threat Assessment as a Standard School Safety Practice: Results From a Statewide Implementation Study." (in en). School Psychology Quarterly. doi:10.1037/spq0000220. ISSN 1939-1560. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/spq0000220.