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Mental Health Experts Offer Advice For Parents Coping With The Stress Of Another School Shooting

A sign on a small brick wall reads "Welcome Robb Elementary School Bienvenidos." A woman wearing a jacket with FBI across the back stands in front of the sign as two men, one in a suit and the other in a law enforcement uniform, walk around the sign.
Law enforcement work the scene after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School where 21 people, including 19 children, were killed on May 24, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas.
(Jordan Vonderhaar
/
Getty Images)
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Parents across the country are no doubt taking time to help their children process the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that took 19 young lives and two teachers.

But what can parents do to protect their own mental health?

UCLA’s Melissa Brymer, Director of Terrorism and Disaster Programs at the UCLA–Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, said it’s completely normal for parents who have to drop their kids off at school in the days after an on-campus mass shooting to feel vulnerable. But she said it’s also important to remember that the risk for kids hasn’t changed since Tuesday morning, and checking in with your kid’s school about its safety plan can be helpful.

Brymer also said to stop doom scrolling: “Is ... going online providing you comfort? Or is it causing distress? And if it’s causing you distress, how do we maybe pause it for a little while?”

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Dr. Steven Siegel, Chief Mental Health and Wellness Officer for Keck Medicine of USC, said for him, it can sometimes help to take a step back and allow himself to rest, knowing that he doesn't have to fix everything in the moment.

While Siegel agrees that breaks from news and social media are necessary, he also said seeing what gun violence can do to specific families can be a powerful motivator for change.

“Once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it, it’s not esoteric: it’s this little boy, and it’s this family,” Siegel said. “When you cannot turn away from the horrors of mass shootings, then it is impossible to turn a blind eye.”

Brymer said it might be therapeutic for families to have conversations about what they can do to bring about change, whether that be contributing to an organization or reaching out to other families.

When you cannot turn away from the horrors of mass shootings, then it is impossible to turn a blind eye.
— Dr. Steven Siegel, Keck Medicine of USC

Brymer also recommends grief groups for families who may be reacting to the death toll in this most recent mass shooting with any COVID-related loss they might have experienced in the last two years. She points to the Our House grief support center in the L.A.-area as one place parents might want to reach out to. Brymer said the state’s CalHope program includes a dedicated phone line and chat service for people needing additional support. The CalHope website also has resources and information on stress relief in several languages.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network also has a wellness strategy known as “Pause-Reset-Nourish,” which “offers a way to address unwanted symptoms and promote and replenish wellbeing and enhance resilience.”

Resources recommended by L.A County school officials
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One of my goals on the mental health beat is to make the seemingly intractable mental health care system more navigable.