Last week a quiet rural community was jolted awake by a school shooting that left scores of young people, adults, and families reeling. Marshall County, Kentucky continues to grieve as they seek to recover from an almost unspeakable act of violence, that left two precious young people dead and eighteen others wounded or injured. This was a tragic and horrible day for this community and for every family involved.
As the community tries to recover, things will normalize but will be forever different from how things were before. “Different” in these type of tragedies is an understatement. According to the National Center for PTSD, 77% or more who witness a school shooting may develop post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is triggered by frightening or life-threatening events. Symptoms include pervasive and disruptive anxiety, nightmares, sleep difficulties, flashbacks, aggression, emotional detachment, social withdrawal, on-going emotional distress, and even physical pain symptoms.
These responses are often temporary and ease with time. However some individuals may need psychological and spiritual counseling to be able recover and cope with PTSD.
What can we do to help those who have gone through and survived such a terror-filled event?
- Observe behavior of those affected. Are they demonstrating symptoms of PTSD? Are they demonstrating behavior that demonstrates they need help or support?
- Be there. People often do not need wisdom or advice, they just need to know that they are not alone and someone cares.
- Acknowledge their pain and confusion. Let them know that you understand that this is a painful, overwhelming, or hurtful time. Assure them that they are having a normal reaction to an abnormal event.
- Intentionally listen. Focus on the person. Follow what the person is saying. Be conscious of body language. Maintain eye contact. Be comfortable with periods of silence. Fixate on what you can do, not what you cannot help with. Listen more than you talk.
- Actively offer comfort. Be with them. Listen to them. Walk alongside them. Shield them from further harm. Help them discover resources to help.
- Promote calming. It is OK to weep with those who are grieving, but remember that you are there for them and seek to focus on their needs not your own. Seek to help them reestablish normal activities and routines, such as eating, sleeping, exercise, etc.
- Allow them to grieve and express their grief. Grief takes time and most people pass through several stages of grief before ready to move on from the grief event. Everyone grieves differently and will pass through grief on their own timetable.
- Hugs and appropriate physical touches can offer healing and comfort.
- Pray with those hurting. Prayer connects people with God, who is the ultimate source of hope. Do not underestimate the healing that God often gives through prayer.
- Do not try to answer the why questions or offer theology lessons on how God acts in certain events. In the crisis, people need to know you care, not what you may or may not know. Let God speak for Himself to the person.
- Offer spiritual help when appropriate. Those with spiritual foundations recover from disaster events in more healthy and positive ways than those without spiritual roots. Remember to share how God has helped you in crisis times, not seek to force your faith on those affected. Be cautious in seeking to share Christ to those who have experienced emotional trauma, as we never want to wrongly manipulate vulnerable people.
“Lord, be merciful to us! We wait for you.
Give us strength each morning!
Deliver us when distress comes.” (Isaiah 33:2)