Over the last week there have been reports of three suicides by survivors of mass school shootings. Two were students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High; https://www.cbsnews.com/news/second-parkland-suicide-another-parkland-shooting-survivor-dies-in-apparent-suicide-today-police-say/. As it is well known, this high school experienced a mass shooting a little over a year ago, killing 17 students and staff and injuring 17 others. The additional reported suicide related to a mass shooting was the father of a child that was murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. His daughter was gunned down at 6 years old in December 2012; https://news.yahoo.com/father-of-sandy-hook-victim-found-dead-in-apparent-suicide-newtown-police-say-161413508.html . The Sandy Hook Shooting took the lives of 20 children and six adult staff members.
These stats (and more) are important and easily researchable, but they leave out important data elements that tell more of the story. If we were to explore how many of these survivors, or relatives of survivors, suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the numbers of the impacted would surely increase. If we added the number of those that suffered from Depression, Anxiety or both, the numbers would sky rocket. If we went on to ask, of those individuals with PTSD, Depression or Anxiety how many received treatment for those conditions, we would likely find there would not be a one to one ratio (e.g. if 20 people were in need of help and only 8 received help). If we added all of the impacted people who survived with or without physical injury but were left with dealing with their mental health status, we would be astonished at the true impact of mass shootings.
When I first began reading the stories of the suicides referenced above, my heart broke (again). I am fully aware every time there is a notable tragedy such as these, the rippling effect that survivors will encounter for the rest of their lives. Nonetheless, it doesn’t make hearing these stories any less difficult for me. I was also infuriated because as a country we are not solving this issue and are doing our fellow citizens a disservice. It is maddening.
I sat on this blog entry for days, unsure how I wanted to express my frustration and utter sadness about these suicides. What I have decided is that I want to use my platform, in light of these horrific stories of suicides by survivors, to talk about trauma with you in a way that you can relate and apply it to everyday scenarios. I want us to do something about dealing with trauma now, and this we can do. As traumatic as the school shootings always are, let’s shift from there for now and think about common daily occurrences of forms of trauma that any of us may are guaranteed to experience in our lifetime:
1. A sudden serious illness
2. The death of a loved one (parent, child, spouse, friend, etc.)
3. Sudden loss of a sense or body part (loss of sight/hearing, loss of a limb, paralysis, etc.)
4. The loss of property via a forced event (House burns down; House is destroyed via a weather event; etc.)
5. Victim of a crime (violent or non-violent; includes abuse victims)
6. A sudden loss of income/job/employment
7. Involvement in an accident resulting in moderate to serious injury – car accident, bus crash, train derailment, plane crash, boat crash or sinking, drowning, hiking fall, motorcycle crash, sports injury, etc.
8. A divorce or termination of a romantic relationship (throw in walking in on a cheating spouse here too)
9. Social Media Shaming/Bulling & In Person Bullying
10. Miscarriage, Still-Births, or Serious Infertility Challenges
If you are reading this and have not experienced any of the above, stick around a little bit longer you will indeed get your turn, such is life. So, if this much is true, then what can we do as everyday humans to support others as we experience traumatic events? I have a short list for that also.
1. Be Kind. You never know what the next person is going through, act that way. Your kindness may be exactly what was needed for the person at the exact moment you encountered them. Being kind embodies soo much! Be creative and if it is a friend or family member you should be able to add the appropriate unique and personal twists to your acts of kindness. The sky is the limit on acts of kindness.
2. Make time for real life connections. Pick up the phone and actually use it for its original intent – calling! Call the people that matter to you from time to time. Text is ok, but it is not the same as human voice connection. This connection allows you to LISTEN and actually talk. A lost art! Spend social facetime with one another, make the time, schedule and stick to it.
3. Do not make fun of mental health illness. Every time we do this, we perpetuate the stigma that comes with Mental Health. It makes the person who needs help avoid it, feel shameful and embarrassed. Normalize the discussion of Mental Health. Instead take the time to educate yourself on what the person is experiencing. If it is depression, learn about what depression actually is. It is not just being sad. The more you know the better you can help someone.
4. Use social media to make positive connections. Do not use it to bully others or be mean. Say what you would say to someone if they were sitting next to you. You have no idea what your words can do to someone who is already in a bad place mentally.
5. Remember the person after the traumatic event passes. We are great at rallying around a person when they have experienced a traumatic event. But what happens 5 or 10 years after the event? We know the person that experienced the trauma never forgets. So how can we be better long-term supporters? Sometimes it’s simply by making connections for them for support (e.g. support groups), or it may be by asking them what can you do to continue to support them. Sometimes it is literally being available to listen and just remembering that they have an internal trauma scar that may never totally heal.
Trauma is a complicated subject and can not be condensed into a brief blog entry. What I hope you take away is that we all experience varying degrees of traumatic events in our life. Let’s support each other by becoming more informed, more educated, and more accountable to the well being of one another. It is my hope that this cliff’s note version on simple things you can do to help someone experiencing a traumatic event will help you help someone else. You won’t be able to stop all suicides and you will not be able to end all mass shootings by applying anything from my list. However, you will be able to help someone get by a little bit longer and in many cases, you will save a life that you didn’t even know you were saving. Trauma is tricky, but we are smart. Let’s do this together one day at a time. – MJ
Note: I am not up for debating gun control here. That is a completely different conversation that I purposefully avoided because I want to be impactful now and focus on the subject of trauma. Besides, I was already frustrated enough writing this…….