In the aftermath of tragedy, mental health experts point to resources and encourage the community to stay resilient.
“We are strong. Colorado is strong,” said Dr. Sarah Davidon, research director at Mental Health Colorado, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the treatment and prevention of mental health and substance-use disorders. “Our school districts are strong. Our communities are strong.”
Colorado knows the sequence of events all too well. The May 7 shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch that left one student dead and eight others injured adds to a list of mass shootings the state has experienced.
Anxiety and tension following such a tragedy are common feelings in adults and children, Davidon said. It's important for young people to know they are safe, their schools are safe and their feelings are validated.
“Kids sense a lot of anxiety and tension in the adults around them,” Davidon said. “Certainly we want to let children know that when something like this happens, it's OK to feel these things.”
Individuals process trauma differently. Some may react within weeks of a tragedy. For others it may take weeks or months, according to mental health organizations.
Symptoms to look for in children are a hyper-focus on death, problems with eating and sleeping, changes in behavior and school avoidance, according to Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit organization that advocates for family mental health.
In adults, responses to trauma may include flashbacks or nightmares, fear, edginess, social isolation and changes in mood.
Mental Health Colorado is one of several public health organizations that offer a robust network of online resources. For help in a number of areas — grief, how to find mental health services near you, suicide prevention and more — visit www.mentalhealthcolorado.org/help.
Resources at school
Schools are among the safest places to be, Davidon stresses.
Douglas County School District's network of mental health resources includes Prevention and School Culture and Mental Health Intervention departments.
The departments — made up of counselors, mental health professionals and teachers — spearhead seminars on life skills and promote wellness campaigns in schools, such as Sources of Strength. The suicide prevention program takes an upstream approach by helping students focus on what is working in their lives.
Each school has a crisis team that responds to building-level situations. Following the STEM tragedy, DCSD activated its district-level crisis team. Mental health professionals and administrators, in conjunction with the district's community relations department and local law enforcement, work together to provide assistance to communities across the county.