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Coping with Aftershocks of Tragedy

Written by Jamie Stormer, Director of Children’s Outpatient Services at Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Inc.

The tragedy in Parkland at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was over one year ago, however, the members of the Parkland community, as well as teenagers and young adults across the country, continue to feel the impacts of that day. Two students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas have recently taken their own lives, opening up new wounds and bringing suicide prevention to the forefront of the minds of parents, families, friends, educators, and mental health professionals.

As stated by Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of Boston University School of Public Health, in the NPR broadcast, “Impact of Mass Trauma Plays Out Long After the Tragic Event,” incidents in mental health disorders tend to increase in the communities surrounding the site of a tragedy such as a school shooting.  [We see this] not only in those directly affected by the event, but also members of the community at large. Disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression may lead to consequences such as suicide and can worsen with repeated exposures to similar traumatic events. Suicide can be prevented; therefore, it is important to learn the risk factors and warning signs, as well as available resources to help those who may be contemplating suicide.

Characteristics considered to be risk factors for suicide include: feelings of hopelessness, withdrawal from peers and family members, self-harm (i.e., cutting), family stressors, family history of suicide, previous suicide attempts, access to means of taking one’s life (i.e., medications, firearms, etc.), recent crisis (i.e., family violence, bullying, death within the family or peer group, etc.). Warning signs may take the form of direct or indirect threats and statements about the desire to take one’s own life or to no longer live, making final arrangements and giving away valued possessions, increased preoccupation with death, increased risk-taking behaviors, substance abuse, and unexplained increase in happiness.

Parents, family members, friends, and educators should always take threats regarding suicide seriously and seek support immediately. Those contemplating suicide can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-Talk or the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741. If you are concerned about your teenage child, please reach out to community based mental health professionals as soon as possible. Crisis intervention services are also available through Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Inc. and can be accessed by calling 1-352-374-5600 option 1.  In addition to crisis services, Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Inc. offers longer term school and clinic based outpatient therapeutic services and can focus on the development of coping strategies and safety behaviors. Medication management services are also available.

Please note, in an emergency, dial 9-1-1 or visit the nearest emergency department or crisis stabilization unit.

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