Acts of mass violence, such as the shootings in California at the ballroom dance studio in Monterey Park and mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay cause extreme disruption within communities. Victims, family, friends, first responders and emergency personnel, as well as community leaders are among those affected. Ongoing and graphic media exposure expand 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: Coping with Stress After a Mass Shooting
FACT SHEET: Helping Communities After Disasters
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
Select populations may be at greater risk than others for negative mental health effects and warrant unique considerations. Such populations include: 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; new or junior personnel; people with limited financial resources; persons with cognitive or mobility impairment. Marginalized and under-represented groups with a community may be reluctant to use formal or government-provided 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: How Families Can Help Children
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. 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: