Earlier this month, a co-worker and I were talking about what has been happening around our country, most recently the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana, Philando Castile in Minnesota and five police officers in Texas.
We were talking about the collective trauma and fear that is building across our great nation. I shared that a young woman told me she has been having trouble sleeping because she is worried for her friends and hopeless about our society’s ability to stop killing each other, asking, “How does one live in this world?”
An intern who has been working with Mental Health America for several months came around the corner as we talked, crying and shaken, saying, “I heard you starting to talk about what is happening and I was afraid of what I was going to hear. Thank you so much for your openness and understanding.”
She learned that day that at Mental Health America, our staff is empathetic and encouraging and that our office is a safe place to talk about difficult situations and get support.
Those young women and so many other people have been traumatized by what has been happening in our country. Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event, and the side effects can range from having difficulty sleeping and unpredictable emotions to physical symptoms like upset stomach, headaches and muscle aches.
The pain of stress and anxiety caused by trauma is very real. Everyone reacts to trauma differently – some people may experience no ill effects, others may feel immediate and acute impact, and some may not show signs until long after the trauma occurs.
What can you do if a friend or family member shows signs of stress due to trauma:
•Let the person know you are concerned and willing to help
•Remain calm and speak in a reassuring but firm manner
•Speak clearly and slowly, and use short sentences
•Avoid any negative reactions
•Acknowledge that what they feel is very real
•Reassure the person that he or she is safe
Encourage the person to:
•Tell others what he or she needs
•Identify sources of support
•Take care of himself or herself
•Use coping strategies that have helped in the past
•Spend time somewhere in a safe and comfortable place
•Seek professional help if needed
Encourage seeking professional help if, for four weeks or more after the trauma, the person:
•Still feels upset or fearful
•Is unable to escape intense, ongoing, distressing feelings
•Finds important relationships are suffering
•Feels jumpy or has nightmares because of or about the trauma
•Can’t stop thinking about the trauma
•Is unable to enjoy life as a result of the trauma
•Has symptoms that are interfering with usual activities
Above all, know that there is hope – hope that someone experiencing symptoms following trauma can work through them and recover, and hope that our world can right itself and live harmoniously and peacefully.
Penny Sitler is the executive director of Mental Health America of Licking County.
Found in The Newark Advocate July 16, 2016