Acts of mass violence, such as the shootings at the Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York cause extreme disruption within communities. Victims, family, friends, first responders and emergency personnel, as well as community leaders are among those affected. The racially motivated nature of the event may serve to further sow division and requires thoughtful consideration to foster community recovery. Ongoing and graphic media exposure, as well as the perpetrator’s live streaming of the shooting, broaden the disaster “community” far beyond the geographic region of the event.
Caring for the mental health needs of communities and promoting resilience and recovery requires prompt interventions that educate people on common responses to trauma, provides guidance on actions to foster individual and family well-being, and ensures resources are available when distress persists, or other symptoms emerge.
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. Information relevant to this event and links to brief, easy to read, action-oriented education fact sheets are provided below.
Common responses immediately after disasters include distress reactions (insomnia, irritability, loss of perception of safety, social isolation, blaming and scapegoating) and health risk behaviors (increased use of alcohol and tobacco, over-dedication to tasks, and reduced self-care). For supervisors, leaders, family members, and healthcare personnel, being alert to these reactions and behaviors, promptly identifying them, and providing interventions can reduce distress and improve functioning and may decrease the likelihood of developing mental disorders. Normalizing the reactions and offering guidance about what to expect with symptoms over time, as well as when and where to get assistance if needed, helps people feel calm and increases self-reliance. The following resource(s) address this topic in further detail:
FACT SHEET: Helping Communities After Disasters
FACT SHEET: Coping with Stress After a Mass Shooting
Grief is a near universal experience for those directly impacted by mass violence. Many will grieve loss of feelings of safety, control, and life routines. Kindness, caring, and listening are important ways to support family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Anxiety about the future is best managed through problem-solving and helping people get connected with support resources and healthcare if needed. Being sensitive to the need for rituals, such as memorial and funerals that support expressions of grief, facilitates healing, which ultimately strengthen communities. Grief leadership involves anticipating feelings of loss, supporting people in mourning losses, and helping address fears about the future. The following resource(s) address this topic in further detail:
FACT SHEET: Helping People After a Loss
FACT SHEET: Grief Leadership in the Wake of Tragedies
FACT SHEET: Leadership in Disasters & Lessons Learned
Workplace and organization management following mass violence in a work setting is an important part of restoring operational functioning. In addition to financial support, workplaces and organizations often provides a sense of meaning and social connectedness to those who work there. Effective support for personnel can enhance functioning for both the individuals and, more broadly, the affected workplace or organization. Caution should be taken to avoid overworking remaining employees in the workplace. Allowing for grief and loss through ritual and memorials enhances healing and recovery. The following resource(s) address this topic in further detail:
Special populations may be more vulnerable than others and warrant unique considerations. Such populations include: new or junior personnel; individuals with limited social support; first responders and public health emergency workers (including volunteers); individuals with active pre-existing mental health conditions; children; pregnant and post-partum women; people with limited financial resources; persons with cognitive or mobility impairment. Marginalized groups may be reluctant to use government resources for fear of negative reactions or legal consequences, which limits their access to helping services. 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: Managing the Stress of Children After a Disaster
FACT SHEET: How Schools Can Help Students
Risk and crisis communication are a critical behavioral health intervention that aids community recovery. For Commanders overseeing response to mass violence and other disaster events, understanding what to say and what not to say, 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 don’t know the answer, committing to following up at a specific time, and then doing so; avoid 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. It also increases participation of community members in helpful post-disaster response and recovery behaviors. The following resource(s) address this topic in further detail:
FACT SHEET: Leadership Communication During Crisis
Additional detailed resources can further knowledge about effective preparedness, response, and recovery measures. Some are brief while others are more detailed. Working with more detailed resources, such as books or online training, during an actual disaster response is not typically feasible. These more in-depth treatments of key topics may be helpful as the initial response slows and serve to inform later response and recovery efforts as well as enhance preparedness for future events. Links to additional websites, fact sheets, articles, training, and books can be found below: