The combination of life-threatening traumatic personal experiences, death of loved ones, disruption of routines and expectations of life, and post-violence adversities pose psychological challenges to the recovery of children and families. The Connecticut shooting was a tragic illustration of such a situation. Sadly, there are various psychological effects of such a traumatic event. This post will cover some of the common post-trauma experiences children and families may encounter and how to cope.
Posttraumatic Stress Reactions
Posttraumatic stress reactions are common, understandable, and expectable, and are consequently serious.
The three categories are:
1) Intrusive Reactions, meaning ways the traumatic experience comes back to mind. These include recurrent upsetting thoughts or images, strong emotional reactions to reminders of the attacks, and feelings that something terrible is going to happen again
2) Avoidance and Withdrawal Reactions, including avoiding people, places and things that are reminders
of the attacks, withdrawal reactions, including feeling emotionally numb, detached or estranged from others, and losing interest in usual pleasurable activities
3) Physical Arousal Reactions, including sleep difficulties, poor concentration, irritability,
jumpiness, nervousness, and being “on the lookout for danger.”
Grief reactions are normal, are unique to the person, and can last for many years. There is no single “correct” course of grieving. Personal, family, religious, and cultural factors affect the progression of grief. Over time, grief reactions tend to include more pleasant thoughts and activities, such as positive reminiscing or finding uplifting ways to memorialize or remember a loved one.
Trauma and Loss Reminders
Trauma reminders: Many people will continue to encounter places, people, sights, sounds, smells, and inner feelings that remind them of the shooting.
The sounds of gunfire, the smell of smoke, and people screaming have become powerful reminders. Adults and youth are often not aware that they are responding to a reminder, and the reason for their change in mood or behavior may go unrecognized.
Coping after Catastrophic Violence
In addition to meeting people’s basic needs, there are several ways to enhance people’s coping.
Physical: Stress can be reduced with proper nutrition, exercise and sleep. Youth and adults may need to be reminded that they should take care of themselves physically to be of help to loved ones, friends, and communities.
Emotional: Youth and adults need to be reminded that their emotional reactions are expected, and will decrease over time. However, if their reactions are too extreme or do not
diminish over time, there are professionals who can be of help.
Social: Communication with, and support from, family members, friends, religious institutions and the community are very helpful in coping after catastrophic violence. People should be encouraged to communicate with others, and to seek and use this support where available.
Restoring a sense of safety and security, and providing opportunities for normal development within the social, family and community context are important steps to the recovery of children, adolescents, and families (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network).
A.C.T. will provide free resource information for individuals and families to help promote education. For more information, please contact Dr. Drecun at Dr.Drecun@a4ct.com or (858) 792-3541. You may also visit us online at www.a4ct.com. ACT serves the Del Mar 92014 and Rancho Santa Fe 92067 area.