Trauma of Newtown shooting can extend to those without direct connectionby Lorna Benson, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — New details about the Connecticut school shooting will emerge over the next few days and weeks. For some people, the extensive media coverage may become too much to bear.
It's OK for people tune out as they cope with the trauma of the event, says a University of Minnesota psychologist Richelle Moen. In fact, avoiding wall-to-wall coverage may be the best thing for one's mental health.
Moen has taken calls from several of her clients in recent days who feel so bad about the Connecticut school shooting that they are having trouble functioning. She has advised them all to take a break from the media coverage.
"That's exactly the intervention that I've suggested is to just turn it off and to not read the newspaper right now, Moen said. "Because it's increasing their anxiety level where they're considering not going to work, that they just are feeling themselves so sad and are crying."
Moen, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, said it is normal for anyone to feel grief over such a horrific event. But an event that a person is not directly connected to shouldn't prevent them from resuming normal activities like going to school or work, she said. If it does, that may be a sign of over-relating to the tragedy.
It's common for parents to dwell on a situation like this, Moen said, because they may fear for the safety of their own children. It's also common, she said, for people dealing with a mental illness to be haunted by these types of crime stories.
"You might think, 'Oh, my gosh. What if I would have done that?' That can happen, or any other mental illness that you've had or in your family," Moen said. "It can be kind of related to, 'What if? What if?'"
Even more common, Moen said, is the worry that others who know of your mental illness might suddenly become suspicious of you.
"That is what we're hearing from families and other adults who have mental issues, is that it's like are people going to think that I could act out like that," Moen said.
Most people with mental illnesses are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators, Moen said. But the stigma associated with a high-profile crime that may be linked to a mental health problem is still hard to shake.
The timing of the shooting is also a factor in how people process it. The upcoming holidays only heighten the emotions that many people are feeling, Moen said, and it may be comforting to set aside a moment of silence, attend a candlelight vigil, or say prayers to remember the shooting victims.
"But then allow ourselves to be with our families and appreciate them and to have some joy because what that does, it helps with resilience," Moen said. "We need to get back into routines and not feel guilty about it."
Moen said most people who are struggling to cope with the Connecticut school shooting probably don't need to see a therapist. Having other understanding adults to talk with should be sufficient to help most people deal with the trauma.
People who have ongoing problems, such as nightmares, insomnia, irritability, memory and concentration problems may need to seek professional help, Moen said.
- Morning Edition, 12/18/2012, 6:50 a.m.