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Trauma can reach those not directly impacted by FedEx mass shooting

Experts say trauma “is relative" and research shows mass shootings can have a citywide impact.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis is the latest city to suffer from mass violence. Nine families have been torn apart and forever changed. Five families are left waiting in desperate prayer. Many more families and individuals are walking away but with invisible wounds after the mass shooting at FedEx on Thursday night that left 9 people dead, including the gunman, and 5 people injured. 

“You don’t have to go ... too many degrees of separation before you know someone who knows someone who is a family member or friend of someone who works at FedEx so there are a lot more people who were indirectly exposed than were directly exposed,” said Dr. Dean Kilpatrick, Director of the National Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center (NMVVRC). 

RELATED: Eight killed in FedEx mass shooting, suspect was former employee questioned by FBI last year

CITYWIDE IMPACT

NMVVRC said research on mass shootings reveals the violence can have a citywide impact. Kilpatrick said that while there are many Americans who live in fear of mass violence, even though they haven’t been directly impacted by an event, “those fears are even greater in cities where it's happened.” 

Cities that have had a mass shooting also are at “increased risk of anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and depression,” said Kilpatrick.  

RELATED: Here's where to get mental health, emotional support

He described the impact as a ripple in a pool. Those being closer to the epicenter of the tragedy generally being the most impacted. But he also pointed out that survivors of mass violence can be triggered by this event no matter how far removed.  

Kimble Richardson is a licensed mental health counselor at Community Health Network with over 30 years of experience in crisis intervention.  

“Sometimes when a person’s world view or sense of morals and values are disrupted that can cause a crisis,” said Richardson. It’s why the same event could traumatize one person and not another.  

Trauma “is relative,” said Richardson. 

“For example, most people have a thought that work is a safe place,” said Richardson. “When that is altered in any way ... it really can affect people in the moment and long term."  

Some trauma experts believe what makes an event traumatic is when it severs their relationship with community, self, body, family, or any other connection that was there or should have been present.  

Richardson said that impact can be felt by those who hear about a traumatic event and is referred to as “secondary trauma.” First responders, therapists and medical workers can also be impacted by “compassion fatigue” also referred to as “tertiary trauma.”  

THERE'S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DISTRESS AND TRAUMA 

Many people will be distressed by a mass shooting. It’s normal to have uncomfortable feelings in relation to a tragedy.  

But not everyone will be traumatized by what happened.  

“It will be a while before it’s really clear who’s having more long-term problems,” said Dr. Kilpatrick. 

He said it’s normal to be unhappy and like any other emotion, it’s ok to feel sadness, anger, or any other negative emotion.  

WHAT TO WATCH FOR AND HOW TO COPE WITH UNCOMFORTABLE FEELINGS AND NEGATIVE EMOTIONS 

Both Richardson and Dr. Kilpatrick said it’s important to pay attention to any long-term behavioral changes that aren’t diminishing.  

Richardson said changes in eating behaviors, sleeping patterns, or difficulty concentrating are key behaviors to pay attention to in oneself and others. Also, if someone is isolating.  

Both Richardson and Dr. Kilpatrick said it’s important to sit through the negative feelings and find positive ways to cope with them during the immediate distress period.  

They said it’s important not to isolate, “reach out to your support network,” said Richardson.  

“Maintain a simple routine, go to bed at a certain time,” he added.  

Richardson also urged the importance of not missing a meal and drinking enough to stay hydrated. 

The body is best able to regulate emotions when it’s biologically given the tools it needs to regulate itself from an operational standard. Also, make sure to get outside and find activities to keep you mindful or express your emotions in a productive way that doesn’t harm you or others.  

Richardson said if someone is withdrawing “don’t have to make them talk. You can just sit with them.” And if a friend or family member does want to talk but the topic is distressing or you don’t have the mental capacity at the moment to carry it “you can just say ‘let’s take a time out and find you some help,’” said Richardson.  

Dr. Kilpatrick said that if someone finds themselves "glued to the news" or social media that it's okay to turn it off or delete apps. If the information and staying up to date is distressing, do what you need to do to protect your mental health.  

Mental health experts have also found deep breathing to be a helpful tool for calming the nervous system as well as yoga and meditation. Trying to stay in the present moment, mindfulness, is a way to remind your body and yourself that you are safe in this current moment. 

RESOURCES AND TOOLS  

With funding from the Department of Justice, NMVVRC created a free app called Transcend available on Google Play Store or Apple App Store

The app offers resources including: 

  • “About - An overview of common reactions to mass violence and paths to recovery.  
  •  Calm Your Body - Highlights the impact of mass violence on your body and provides ways to promote relaxation, sleep and physical well-being.  
  • Ease Your Mind - Explains how mass violence can affect the way you think and strategies to ease your stressed mind.  
  • Get Up and Move - Explains the importance of remaining active and involved with others, while also helping to generate ideas for re-engaging with people and the world around you.  
  • Cope with Loss - Provides coping strategies and activities to help those who are grieving a loss.  
  • Reach Out - Highlights the role of social support in recovery and walks through personal strategies you can use to increase your social support network as you recover.  
  • Help Others - Provides information and strategies about how to help survivors of mass violence. 
  • Get Help Now – Provides information about accessing victim, financial, and legal assistance. This section can also help you get immediate help or connect you with a therapist in your area.”

Dialing 211 will also help connect you or a loved one with local mental health resources and specialists.