Whether directly or indirectly affected by the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart on Aug. 3, some residents of our community may experience significant emotional issues, said Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso and Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso mental health professionals who help patients recover from emotional trauma.
Post-traumatic symptoms can affect victims and their loved ones, first responders, medical personnel, criminal investigators and others involved in traumatic incidents. Resulting mental health disorders can include acute stress disorder (ASD), which occurs immediately after a traumatic incident, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a long-term condition.
“People are going to know people who were in the store or know someone who was affected. There were a lot of folks who were witnesses, like first responders, even members of the media, and members of our TTUHSC El Paso and TTP El Paso community who treated the wounded,” said Melanie Longhurst, Ph.D., M.Ed., a TTUHSC El Paso assistant professor and clinical psychologist who works with veterans with PTSD in the El Paso Veterans Affairs health care system.
ASD and PTSD Symptoms
Affected individuals may experience a myriad of emotional and physical symptoms, including:
- Depression, anxiety, anger and fear.
- Intrusive thoughts.
- Negative thoughts about the future.
- Poor appetite or overeating.
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
- Social isolation.
- Avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event.
Moataz M. Ragheb, M.D., Ph.D., a TTUHSC El Paso associate professor and practicing psychiatrist with Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso, said most people will recover with gradual resolution of symptoms over the following days, weeks, and sometimes months. Only a minority will go on to develop long-term psychiatric conditions such as PTSD, he said.
With recovery being the rule rather than the exception, Dr. Ragheb and Dr. Longhurst said there are tools that can help people cope with trauma, including social and psychological interventions and medications, if necessary.
“You do not have to suffer in silence until recovery is achieved,” Dr. Longhurst said.
Self-Care Tips for Recovery from Emotional Trauma
Dr. Ragheb and Dr. Longhurst said another important tool is practicing self-care. There are things a person can do—and others things to avoid—to achieve recovery:
- Refrain from using alcohol as a coping tool.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Stick to a nutritious diet and get regular exercise—even a brisk walk is helpful.
- Minimize exposure to non-stop media coverage of the tragedy. Put down your phone or tablet—there is no need to constantly check social media for updates; it will just make you feel more stressed.
- Practice relaxation exercises, mindfulness, meditation and/or yoga.
- Do not suppress normal emotions.
- Be aware of your brain’s patterns of response to the trauma. Don’t let negative thoughts take you into darker places. Pause, ponder and examine your train of thought. Challenge painful—often illogical—assumptions and conclusions. You are more resilient than you probably think.
- There is no shame in reaching out for help.
- This is not a one-size-fits-all list of recommendations; self-care will be different for different people.
As a community, we can help each other by checking in on friends and family and be there to listen to their concerns and worries. This is a time for both grieving and healing, and it works better together, Dr. Longhurst said.
As individuals, we should make an effort to reach out to our social networks of friends and family and stay connected.
“As the dust settles and acute stress starts to wind down, individuals will notice whether or not they will be exhibiting ongoing stress,” Dr. Longhurst said. “Is it impacting their day-to-day functioning? Are they struggling at work, struggling to get things done at home? Those are indicators to seek ongoing help.”
Those who feel they need counseling, guidance or simply want to talk to someone, can contact the organizations listed below for free, confidential consultation services.
- Emergence Health Network’s 24-hour Crisis Line at 915-779-1800.
- MetLife Grief Counseling Service at 1-866-885-6540.
- Magellan Health Counseling Services at 1-800-327-7451.