How to mentally cope with Louisville’s mass shooting
Gov. Andy Beshear, in blue jacket, arrived at gathering of first responders near the scene of Louisville shooting Monday morning. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer)
For help coping with Louisville’s mass shooting, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 988 or the Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990.
Events like Monday’s mass shooting in Louisville can heighten the human body’s fight or flight response, mental health experts say, and can raise anxiety — particularly for those with post traumatic stress disorder.
But there are coping mechanisms that can help – and emergency lines staffed by trained professionals if they don’t.
Here’s what mental health experts are saying:
It’s normal to be upset. Feel your feelings.
Five people, including the shooter, were killed and another eight injured in the mass shooting in downtown Louisville Monday, police said.
Being upset about that is a normal human response, according to Eric Russ, the executive director of the Kentucky Psychological Association who is also a clinician with the Louisville Psychotherapy Group.
“It’s scary that these kinds of shootings are happening more often in the world,” he said. “It makes sense to be on edge and worried about people that you love and care about.”
It’s important to give yourself space to feel those feelings, he said. If they persist more than a few days, though, it might be appropriate to seek counseling from a mental health therapist.
Lauren Downey, the founder of Lexington’s Trauma-Informed Counseling Center, said it’s also important to use events like this “to cultivate conversations about trauma and mental health.” If we don’t, she said, “we’re doing ourselves a disservice and our future generations, for sure.”
“Honor them, don’t overlook them,” Downey said. “Don’t push them down. Don’t think it’s because of you.”
It’s also important to know that trauma responses can come weeks after a traumatic event, Downey said.
For instance, someone might not know they’re now triggered by crowds until the next time they’re going to a crowded event and they notice trouble sleeping, sweating or stomach problems.
If those feelings keep you from experiencing and enjoying life, she said, consider looking for a therapist to help.
How do I talk to my kids about the shooting?
It’s important to let your kids know you’re doing your best to keep them safe, Russ said. And let them ask questions about the event. Give information in an age-appropriate way.
“You know your kids better than anyone else,” Russ said. “Trust what level of information they can manage, and let them ask questions.”
Marcie Timmerman, executive director for Kentucky’s chapter of Mental Health of America, added that it’s important not to over-inform, especially with small children, and not to get too stuck on details.
Downey said some questions parents can ask their kids are:
- How are you feeling on the inside?
- How does your heart feel?
- How does your stomach feel?
- How does your body feel?
- Do you feel like your heart is beating faster than you would like it to and you can’t slow it down?
If they answer yes, she said, it may be helpful to seek therapy for them. And as a parent, she said, keep your door open for future conversations.
For more resources on talking to children about violence, visit these sites:
Don’t stigmatize mental illness in your anger and hurt
Sometimes after mass acts of violence, people chalk up the violence to mental illness. That’s dangerous, mental health experts say.
That rhetoric “negatively impacts people’s opinion of mental health and mental wellness visits and appointments,” Timmerman said.
“It’s a huge problem when we put violence on mental illness,” Russ said. “One of the things that we know is that mental illness is not actually a particularly good predictor of violence.”
The American Psychological Association, for example, reported in 2021 that most people with a mental illness aren’t violent, and most acts of violence are not because of a mental illness.
When those who have a mental health diagnosis do commit crimes, APA said, there are usually other factors to consider, such as childhood abuse or substance use.
“Focusing on mental illness absolutely makes it harder for people to access treatment to get care or even talk about their own struggles with mental health,” Russ said.
“I just hope that on the one hand, we can start really targeting some of the gun violence in all of our communities and across America,” Downey said. “But then on the second hand to that, that everybody in their own private areas are having the important discussions and broaching topics about trauma and the importance of being mentally well.”
What are some coping techniques for my anxiety after the mass shooting?
You may notice shaking, your head spinning or elevated breathing right after an event like a mass shooting.
Timmerman said it’s helpful to check in with your shoulders, neck and back – and relax them if they’re tense. Unclench your jaw.
Additionally, it’s important to get back in touch with your senses, she said. You can do this by making note of:
- Five things you can see.
- Four things you can touch.
- Three things you can hear.
- Two things you can smell.
- One thing you can taste.
Other coping tips include:
- Go for a walk, or whatever activity you are capable of.
- Hang out with, call or text a loved one.
- Take breaks from the news. Keeping informed 24/7 about stressful events does not give your mind time to calm down.
- Take slow breaths and remind yourself: “I am safe. I am well.”
A gut reaction after a tragedy like Monday’s mass shooting might also make some not want to leave the house, Russ said, but it’s important not to give into avoidance and let fear govern one’s life.
“The tendency when we hear something like this or experience something like this is to assume the world is now dangerous and threatening and there is violence everywhere,” Russ said.
“What feels really scary, I think, is that it’s unpredictable. We don’t know where and when these things are going to occur,” he added. “But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the world is generally a safe place.”
If your coping techniques are not working or aren’t helping, reach out for help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for any crisis, not just suicidality.
You can also call or text the Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990.
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