Acts of mass violence, such as the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, cause extreme disruption and can be distressful for individuals, families and communities. Those receiving assistance as well as those involved in disaster management efforts can be affected. Disasters involving the death of children, particularly those resulting from intentional violence, can be uniquely disturbing. Ongoing national media exposure creates a disaster “community” that extends far beyond the geographic region of the event. Individual and community strength can be enhanced by interventions that address critical behavioral health issues throughout both the response and recovery phases. Ideal interventions promote the evidence-based principles of Psychological First Aid (PFA), including: safety, calming, self- and community-efficacy, social connectedness, and a sense of hope/optimism.
Immediately below are fact sheets that address important general principles to support individuals and communities after disasters, such as mass shootings. Below the fact sheets is a list of additional important issues to consider in response and recovery from mass shootings.
FACT SHEET: Helping Communities After Disasters
FACT SHEET: Coping with Stress After a Mass Shooting
Click on the title to go directly to that section and applicable resources.
Common Responses to Disaster
Grief: Understanding and Managing
Health Risk and Crisis Communication
Workplace and Organization Support
Common responses to disasters include distress reactions (insomnia, irritability, loss of safety, social isolation, blaming and scapegoating) and health risk behaviors (increased use of alcohol and tobacco, reduced attention to health care). Children and adolescents may become angry or isolative. Younger children may demonstrate regressive behaviors (ie; loss of toilet training) or blame themselves when bad things happen. Being alert for and understanding these behaviors is important to support children and avoid exacerbating troubling emotions or behaviors. For healthcare personnel, understanding reactions and behaviors, promptly identifying them, and providing interventions can reduce distress and improve functioning and may decrease the likelihood of ultimately developing mental disorders. Normalizing the reactions and offering anticipatory guidance about what to expect with symptoms over time, as well as when to get help and where to go, help people feel calm and able to take steps to increase their own well-being.
Grief is a near universal experience for those directly impacted by an mass violence, such as the Santa Fe High School mass shooting. In the immediate aftermath, some will lose loved ones or suffer injuries themselves. Many will feel less safe and more fearful. Loss of control and life routine often compound feelings of grief. Community leaders, teachers and school officials, those leading disaster management efforts, and healthcare providers can help affected individuals by gently inquiring about, acknowledging and then allowing individuals to process grief. Grief support also involves acknowledging feelings of loss, mourning losses, and addressing fears about the future. Anxiety about the future is best managed through “problem solving” (supporting people in connecting with practical help when available). Being sensitive to the need for rituals, such as memorial and funerals, to support expressions of grief allow for healing, which ultimately strengthen communities. The following resource(s) address this topic in further detail:
FACT SHEET: Grief Leadership in the Wake of Tragedies
FACT SHEET: Leadership in Disasters & Lessons Learned
Special populations may be more vulnerable than others and warrant unique considerations. Such populations include: children, women, cognitively and mobility impaired, pre-existing mental health conditions, first responders and public health emergency workers (including volunteers), and healthcare personnel. In addition, people who have previous negative experiences with government or other large organizations (ie; immigrants), or those who fear adverse responses or ridicule (ie; LGBTQ persons) may avoid help-seeking. Children will need support and monitoring at home and at school. Partnering with community leaders, healthcare organizations, and local schools can create opportunities to provide education and resources as well as support community efforts to reduce distress and enhance well-being. Focused interventions can more quickly and effectively address the unique needs of these populations. The following resource(s) address this topic in further detail:
FACT SHEET: Supporting Those with Pre-Existing Mental Health Conditions
FACT SHEET: How Families Can Help Children
FACT SHEET: How Schools Can Help Students
FACT SHEET: First Responders, Emergency Workers & Volunteers and Exposure to Human Remains
FACT SHEET: Maintaining the Well-Being of Healthcare Providers
Health risk and crisis communication is a critical behavioral health intervention following a community disaster. For those leading disaster management efforts, understanding what to say and what not to say, as well as when and how to say it are important elements. Basic principles include being clear and succinct; stating what is known and unknown; indicating when you do not know the answer, committing to following up at a specific time, and then doing so; avoiding lying or efforts to be overly reassuring as these erode trust. Effective communication following a disaster can reduce distress and enhance well-being for affected communities. The following resource(s) address this topic in further detail:
FACT SHEET: Leadership Communication During Crisis
Workplace support following a disaster is an important part of restoring community functioning. In addition to financial support, the workplace often provides a sense of meaning and social connectedness. Effective support for personnel in the workplace can enhance functioning for both the individuals and the organization. Leaders (including first-line supervisors, managers, and others) play an important role. In some organizations, an Employee Assistance Program or similar support office can also help personnel after a disaster. The following resource(s) address this topic in further detail:
FACT SHEET: Workplace and Organization Management After Disaster
Additional detailed resources can further knowledge about effective preparedness, response, and recovery measures. Some are brief while others are more detailed. Reading more detailed resources, such as books about disasters, during an actual disaster response is not likely to happen. However, as the initial response slows a bit, these offer much more in depth treatments of key topics to consider, which may assist with immediate response and recovery and enhance preparedness for future events. Links to additional websites, fact sheets, articles, and books can be found below:
Additional free fact sheet resources at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress
Disaster Psychiatry: What Psychiatrists Need to Know (T Ng)
Textbook of Disaster Psychiatry, 2nd Edition
Disaster Psychiatry (F Stoddard)
Resiliency in the Face of Disaster and Terrorism (J Napoli)
Integrating Emergency Management and Disaster Behavioral Health