Q&A (for public and/or media)
April 19, 2007
A tragedy of public magnitude can occur anywhere, at any time. Examples range from natural disasters (earthquake, fire, flood) to criminal (a school shooting, airplane crash, or explosion). Any situation involving human trauma and injury or loss of life requires a swift and professional response by local mental health officials.
Q: What are the common “warning signs” that should cause concern?
A: Individual likely to engage in violent behavior may:
- have a history of early trauma – or of abuse
- believe they do not have a future
- have been exposed to a pattern of repeated violence at home or in the community
- collect weapons • a loner – withdrawn ( lack of social engagement)
- experiences feelings of humiliation or shame (victim of bullying, teasing)
- express distorted notions of justice • display a lack of compassion/ lack of concern for others
- excessive computer usage – participates in BLOGS, chat rooms with violent content
- make threats via media (cell phones, internet, mail, videos, mail, etc.)
Q: How should loved ones respond to an individual who appears to be in crisis?
A: If an individual is exhibiting warning signs:
- Seek local mentors in the community (Big Bro, chaplains, School Counselor, Youth Mentors, etc.)
- Seek a mental health evaluation.
- If individual is actively making threats or there is evidence of violent content on the computer, cell phones, mail video, notify law enforcement
- Supervise/monitor social interactions or lack of social interactions
Q: What resources exist for people who are concerned that someone they know may be a danger to themselves or others?
Q: After a traumatic event, what signs indicate that a person is having difficulty coping with the situation and may need help?
A: In general terms, loved ones should watch for and attend to:
- Sudden changes in behavior
- Feelings of fear, anger, hopelessness, sadness
- Over response to loud noises, sudden movement or sounds, sights, smells that remind individual of the traumatic event
- Changes in eating and sleeping
- Intrusive thoughts
- Use of drugs and alcohol
- Forgetfulness – disorganization – poor concentration
- Loss of sense of security
Q: Do children exhibit different signs?
A: Depending on the age of the child, the signs can vary.
- Very young children, about ages two to five: sleep disturbance; difficulty separating from parents; fussiness; confusion; fears about safety; somatic symptoms (stomachaches); exaggerated startle to loud noise; and re-enactment of the events through play. These reactions will be most evident in children with greatest exposure to the trauma and when parents display a great deal of distress.
- School-age children, ages five to 11: worries about the safety of loved ones; attention to adult reactions; withdrawal or hyperactivity; repetitious play; impaired concentration and academic performance; sleep disturbances and nightmares; magical ideas about how the disaster might have been averted; and questions about how someone can come to engage in terrorist acts..
- Adolescents, ages 12 to around 18: sadness; outrage; risk-taking behaviors; substance use or abuse; sleep or eating disturbances; anger or rage; talk of retaliation; increased sense of alienation; shifts in peer groups; and focus on death. Adolescent thinking style tends to be all-or-nothing and teens are especially vulnerable to peer influences and failing to consider the consequences of their actions. As such, teens may be particularly vulnerable to impulsive responses.
Q: How can I offer immediate assistance to someone who is having difficulty coping with a public tragedy?
A: Be supportive by: • Listening – Let them tell their story as many times as they need
- Helping children and youth find realistic ways to feel safer
- Limit watching media
- Offer help with daily tasks if needed
- Supporting children and youth to express their anger, fear and vulnerability in safe ways
- Help identify community resources they might access
Q: How can a school/church/rec center (any place where children or youths gather) provide assistance to someone who may be suffering from emotional trauma?
A: Schools can:
- Offer small facilitated discussion groups where young people can talk about their feelings of anger and fear
- Identify an adult partner for each child to go to anytime they feel the need to walk, to talk, and to be heard
- Provide a nurturing “safe place” for the children to retreat when they are anxious. Fill it with books, puzzles or quiet music, and ART
- Limit adult discussion and emotional response in classroom
- Identify children at higher risk and provide more individual attention
- Limit media exposure of the event in the classroom
- Post important resource phone numbers for children and youth in well-traveled areas near telephones
- Call the national Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health at 703-684-7710 to get information about your local chapter
- Always reach out to your local community-based supports: mental health centers, churches, cultural elders, spiritual leaders, friends and neighbors
- Develop crisis response plan to traumatic events that includes teacher trainings
Q: In a crisis, what resources can the community count on the mental health department for?
- Provide referrals to local agencies that can deliver needed services
- Identify children/adults that may qualify for mental health services
- For individuals that are identified as a risk to self or others a crisis team can evaluate for safety and need for further care
- Respond to general questions and concerns
Q: What resources exist for people who have witnessed or experienced a public tragedy?
- Red Cross
- Hospice/ Grief Busters
- ICISF (International Critical Incident Stress Foundation)
- Local Critical Incident Stress Management Team if available in your County
- Emergency Response of local county
- Community Clinics
- Chaplains trained in grief and loss
Q: Where can I get more information about how to help my loved ones?
A: Here are a few helpful Internet sites that provide information on coping with disaster. Many of these include information in multiple languages. This is not an exhaustive list and there are many other helpful resources available.
- United States Department of Health and Human Services: www.samhsa.gov/trauma/index.aspx
- National Association of School Psychologists at www.nasponline.org
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at www.aacap.org
- National Association for the Education of Young Children at www.naeyc.org
- National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress at www.ncptsd.org
Q: How do I find mental health resources specific to my county?
A: Local information can be obtained from:
- California Network of Care: http://networkofcare.org/home.cfm (follow the link to “mental health care” and choose “California”)
- California Mental Health Directors Association: www.cmhda.org/hlthdir.html