George Mason University’s Stephanie F. Dailey, an assistant professor of counseling in the College of Education and Human Development, recently discussed the importance of access to natural support systems and counseling after an incident of mass violence, such as a school shooting.
After a traumatic event such as the one that occurred in Uvalde, Texas, what can be done to help the victims’ families and the survivors?
First off, it’s important that survivors and victims’ families know that any reaction they are having, whether it be fear, grief, or feeling numb, is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. Access to mental health services and connections with their natural support systems, such as a faith community or loved ones, is vital. Many survivors and family members will need long term support, not just in the next few weeks, but for many years to come. Recognition that even short-term impairments can have a profound effect on individuals and advocating for long-term mental health service availability for victims’ families and survivors will go a long way in supporting the Uvalde community.
What would you expect victims’ families and survivors to be experiencing in those first few weeks, and what do they need from others?
People are undoubtedly resilient, but traumatic stress symptoms are common immediate reactions for those directly impacted. Everyone’s experience is unique and different, so it is important to understand that acute reactions can impact a wide range of physical, behavioral, emotional, social, cognitive, and spiritual domains. It is also important to understand that healing takes time – a long time. At the beginning, survivors and victims’ families tend to have a wide-reaching support system, but this tends to fade after a few weeks. Unfortunately, this is when people often need the most help. When national attention has waned, it’s important that people continue their support as the months and years pass. Traumatic grief does not have a timeline.
What are the effects on our society when we are witness to mass violence, such as a school shooting?
In general, one of the most salient effects on our society following an act of a mass violence is the on-going fear among parents, teachers, community leaders, and others regarding school safety. The idea that school may not be a safe place may lead to a heightened sense of anxiety regarding fundamental levels of community safety. Notwithstanding the initial sense of connectedness often felt among community members following a tragedy, there also lies an undertone of feeling unsafe regarding one’s surroundings. This can occur whether a person lives one mile from the event or across the county.
What are the long-lasting effects for trauma victims’ families and survivors?
Grief reactions vary in intensity and length and can be triggered by a wide variety of stimuli, from anniversaries to a particular sound or smell. Some may experience survivors’ guilt, which includes a sense of shame because they or their family member survived while others did not. Sometimes people struggle with navigating this guilt, grappling with questions like, how can I be happy and at the same time devastated? How can I continue to live my life when other people have died? Grief counseling, individual therapy, family counseling, and faith-based counseling can help with survivors’ guilt and the grieving process.
While it is not uncommon for those directly impacted to experience chronic mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, early interventions, such as counseling, can help prevent adverse psychological outcomes.
Stephanie F. Dailey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, contact Anna Stolley Persky at email@example.com
About George Mason
George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 39,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. In 2022, Mason celebrates 50 years as an independent institution. Learn more at gmu.edu