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Uvalde: Exploring the symptoms of grief, emotional toll

People directly and indirectly connected to the Uvalde shooting may feel some sort of psychological fallout.
APTOPIX Texas School Shooting
Posted at 4:40 AM, May 26, 2022

With the nightmare in Uvadle, Texas, trauma takes root.

Mental health experts say trauma comes with a ripple effect, from families grieving their loss of life to many elsewhere grieving their loss of safety.

"You may not see these things sort of immediately after these crises, but in the long term, you know, some of these symptoms may sort of show up more," said Dr. Erlanger Turner, clinical psychologist and Pepperdine University professor.

"Sometimes when we have traumatic grief, it's very hard to get to our grieving and mourning because the trauma is so intense," said Dr. Robin Gurwitch, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Child and Family Health. "We can have more risk for complicated bereavement or prolonged grief disorder when these things happen."

There’s a psychological concept — the hierarchy of needs.

Basically, a person starts at the bottom with basic needs and moves up the pyramid to grow and be emotionally healthy. Just above water, food and breathing is safety.  

"We had this idea that when I go out, I come home,  so that presumption of safety, right?" Dr. Gurwitch said. "And our world view, when I put my child on the bus, at the end of the day, I need to make sure I'm home to meet the bus. And this has totally rocked that."

For children, feeling unsafe can show up many ways: not eating, a change in sleeping patterns, trouble focusing.

But in addition to noticing their behavior, adults should look at how they’re reacting, too.

Something as simple as taking a news break can make all the difference.

"You are modeling for your child how to deal with some of these stressors," Dr. Gurwitch said. "And we know, like, continued exposure to these events through media can also lead to increases in trauma reactions of trauma responses."

Whether it's witnessing the devastation up close or at a distance, experts say caring for each other’s mental health and talking about what is keeping you safe is a crucial tool right now.

More resources are available in managing distress in the aftermath of a shooting for individuals [apa.org] and for parents/children [apa.org].

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