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News about tragedies in our communities can bring on shock, horror or disbelief, and, sadly, these incidents are becoming more frequent—and closer to home.
As details of an incident emerge you may experience a range of emotions. Anger at the perpetrator, confusion over the person’s motives, sadness for those who were hurt or killed, and fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time yourself someday. The unpredictable nature of these types of incidents adds to our fear and threatens our sense of safety and security.
“Our sense of safety and security are foundational to our ability to navigate the world. When the foundation gets rocked by events like this, it makes sense that people need to pause and think--what does this mean to me and how do I make sense of it?” says Lindsay Fazio, Ph.D., wellbeing coordinator and psychologist with NorthShore University HealthSystem.
In situations like this, there are things you can do to ground yourself and think more clearly.
It’s normal to have intense feelings after a tragic event. It’s also normal for those feelings to resurface or appear for the first time weeks or months afterward. If you find yourself struggling with anger, anxiety, sleep issues or mood or energy changes, it’s important to talk to a professional.
“When something like this happens, when it’s closer to home, it almost moves from a little “r” reality to a big “R” reality. This isn’t something I just read about in the paper, this was 10 miles down the road,” says Ian Evans, LCPC, with Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.
Evans and Fazio both say professional mental health support is vital when faced with overwhelming emotions.
“If you had a broken leg, you wouldn’t just say, ’I’m going to tape it up and get through this.’ Mental health should be thought of the same way. When we have stress or struggle, you go to the experts.”
Helping children cope after a tragic event
Children may also be affected emotionally if they hear about tragic events. Young kids don’t need lengthy explanations or details. Older children and teens could benefit from deeper conversation.
“Parents should start off by asking what they’ve heard and how they feel about it. That’s a good way to figure out where your child’s at and how they’re doing,” says Dr. Julie Holland, pediatrician with NorthShore University HealthSystem.
Kids who are emotionally upset often exhibit physical symptoms.
“Kids may have trouble sleeping. They may have headaches or stomachaches. They may be more clingy or irritable. Those are all red flags that a child is emotionally affected,” says Dr. Holland.
Some kids tend to withdraw when they’re emotionally upset, Fazio says. Some become hungrier, some lose their appetite.
“When adults or parents talk to kids, it’s important to reinforce the idea that violence is not a solution. There are other ways to be proactive and help fix the problem,” Fazio says.
If you or a loved one feel like you need emotional support, please reference this list of local and regional mental health resources.