Coping with trauma following back-to-back shootings

Published: Aug. 5, 2019 at 7:50 PM CDT
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A range of emotions following back-to-back shootings this weekend, less than 24 hours apart.

31 people were killed between the two shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio on Saturday.

The shootings are part of an upward trend we've seen over the past few years, of increased mass shootings across the country.

Mental health experts tell NBC15 News the first step is addressing the problem and working toward prevention.

“This trend feels like it comes more from a place of our society dividing and not seeking toward understanding,” says Dr. Lisa Baker, PHD, of SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – Madison.

The national attacks can hit close to home, bringing up trauma from events like the Middleton Paradigm shooting last September.

“What can contribute to symptoms of secondary trauma are the proximity of an event. So certainly if a similar event has been in closer proximity, we're more likely to have those reactions of fear,” Dr. Baker says.

With the frequency of mass shootings, Dr. Baker says intense emotions are now appearing in a young audience.

“As adults now, who are not growing up in this climate with mass shootings, it is hard to wrap our heads around. We do see more fear and anxiety, I would say in children,” she says.

That means kids are increasingly aware that they may have similarities with the victims, thus creating a new generation of anxiety.

“If we can relate in some way to the victims, and in some of these cases is certain parts of our population are being targeted,” Dr. Baker says. “So folks, individuals including children who see people that look like them, or are from similar backgrounds are being targeted, they're going to have more events of secondary trauma."

Mental health experts say it’s important that adults address their personal emotions, before explaining the situation to young children.

“Taking care of ourselves to process what we are feeling. Because we may be very anxious and fearful and we're saying, 'Everything's going to be okay.' If our tone or our body's emotions are not feeling okay, they will pick up on that,” Dr. Baker says.

If your kids are under eight-years-old, Dr. Baker suggests avoiding the topic altogether. However, if they start asking questions, answer them factually, and ask how the news makes them feel.