Community key to healing after tragedies like tornadoes, Oregon District mass shooting
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Dayton Daily News
Community key to healing after tragedies like tornadoes, Oregon District mass shooting - Dec 23, 2019
ByIsmail Turay Jr.
How a community responds after traumatic events like the Memorial Day tornadoes and Oregon District mass shooting affects how survivors heal, experts said.
The Dayton region seems to be on the right path with its rallying around survivors, fundraisers, vigils and the star-studded Gem City Shine concert, said Jeremiah Schumm, a Wright State University associate professor of professional psychology.
He refers to it as post-traumatic growth.
Communities sometimes forget about victims before their needs stop, Schumm warned. People deal with trauma differently and heal on their own time. So it’s best to give people space, he said, but maintain some communication and listen if they need talk.
It’s also important that society de-stigmatize mental health so people get the help they need, Schumm said.
“Promoting a culture of understanding that mental health is not something to be ashamed of, mental health is something that most people will have some bad times in their lives, and that’s normal,” he said.
Survivors of mass shootings and other disasters need more attention as they’re likely to experience a range of mental health issues, said Dr. Carol North, a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. That includes depression, isolation and avoidance that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. North has studied more than 3,500 survivors of major disasters, including the Oklahoma City bombing, the Capitol Hill anthrax attacks, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.
Survivors of all disasters have similar trajectories in terms of how they are affected, she said, but subtle differences exist between those who experienced natural disasters and mass shootings.
“What really makes the difference is the scope and magnitude of the event,” North said.
The Oregon District shooter killed nine people and injured 27. But hundreds of others who witnessed the carnage and relatives of the victims could be affected, experts said, even if they haven’t shown signs yet.
About 28% of people who witness mass shootings and other traumatic events develop PTSD, and about a third develop acute stress disorder, according to the National Center for PTSD at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Although psychiatric disorders such as PTSD tend to take affect in disaster survivors immediately, North said they can’t be diagnosed until about month after the event, noting that it tends to increase over time.
“But we can pretty much predict who’s most likely to get it after a couple of weeks,” she said.
Immediately after a traumatic event, survivors are jumpy, easily startled and hyper vigilant, thinking that they’re still in danger, even though the incident’s over. They may also have trouble sleeping, depression, difficulty concentrating and irritability, North and Schumm said.
Another group of symptoms are avoidance, cognitive or mood changes and recreating the incident in their minds.
“These are all very common,” Schumm said.
Dion Green and his girlfriend Donita Cosey experienced some of these symptoms after his house was damaged by the Memorial Day tornadoes and when his father, Derrick Fudge, was killed in the Oregon District mass shooting.
Green, who witnessed his father’s shooting, said he and Cosey have been diagnosed with acute PTSD.
Erica Kirksey was in the Oregon District with longtime friend Lois Oglesby when Oglesby was fatally shot. Kirksey ignored her doctor’s advice a week later and went to work because she needed the money, she said.
During her overnight shift, she started hearing gunshots, then she’d see images of the shooter. She started screaming for her co-workers to help her and saying, “This man is trying to kill me, I hear gunshots.”
Kirksey was hallucinating, she said, adding that she’s since been diagnosed with PTSD