Joe Dubowski, MS, LMFT
Responding to the Shooting in Las Vegas
Our country, and the world, has been racked with pain over the last week and a half as we’ve heard about the horrible mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nearly 60 people had their lives taken that night and hundreds more suffered gunshot wounds and other injuries requiring hospitalization. Stories of heroism, as well as tragedy have been shared, and for days the event has been at the forefront of the media’s attention. Repeated video exposure of the gunfire and people running in fear for their lives has made us vicariously experience the horror and brought the impact of the shooting in our own homes and workplaces. The effects of the shooting, as a result, go much farther than just those present that evening who lived through it.
For this reason, it is fitting for us to write about what we can do in response to this event to protect ourselves from its negative effects. Having lived through such an event myself, as a father of one of the victims of such a shooting, I am aware of the trauma brought on by such events. As a mental health professional, I can offer some advice to help you cope with this news, as well as provide practical help for those who experienced it first or second hand.
Suggestions for Those Affected Second Hand
First of all, we can all benefit by protecting ourselves from over-exposure to the messages and images that maintain the presence of this tragedy in our lives. We can do this, by turning off our televisions and radios when coverage of the shooting is part of the broadcast. The risk to our well-being from seeing and hearing the story over and over again far outweighs the benefit of keeping up with the latest in the death toll and details about the shooter. The repeating of the story and thinking of what happened on an hourly or even daily basis can exaggerate our sense that the world is a dangerous place. This has the potential to increase our anxiety, distrust, anger, and depression.
Instead, focus on what is going on in your own life and in your own community, giving thanks for what is good and pleasant in your life, and by working on improving those things in your personal life that are meaningful to you. For most of us, the world is a much more beautiful and harmonious place than the news media communicates. We are not criticizing the news media; we are merely saying that their job is not to give us the complete picture that we actually need to live by. It is up to us to put the news in perspective.
Suggestions for Those Affected First Hand
For those who know people whose lives were directly affected by the shooting and want to know how to help and support them, here are a few helpful things to keep in mind and to do:
- Grief is a normal reaction to losses of many kinds. It is not a flaw or weakness. Grieving people are not broken (though their hearts may feel that way). Thus, grieving people do not need to be fixed; they need to be listened to with respect, kindness, and empathy.
- Each loss is unique. Comparing what you have been through with what they are feeling is like comparing apples with motorcycles. Similarly, being told by someone “I know how you feel” shuts down conversation and does nothing to help the person you want to help. It can lead that person to feel more isolated and discourages them from telling their story.
- Many grieving people want to tell their story. They just haven’t found the person who will show an interest and have the ability to listen (without analyzing, giving advice, or comparing losses). If someone you care about does not want to talk, that is also okay. Just let them know you care and will be there when they need you. Then be sure to be there when they reach out.
- Avoid clichés. Time worn and inaccurate statements like “Just keep busy,” “You never get over the loss of a child,” and “It just takes time” may lead to putting off getting support when they really need the help and encouragement to heal.
Finally, be encouraged it is possible for people to recover from events such as the shooting in Las Vegas, to experience growth in their lives, a deepening of relationships, and a greater appreciation for the daily blessings of life. It is our hope at Fox Valley Institute that you will experience these things in your life, and feel confident in knowing you can always call on us.