Trauma From Grocery Store Shooting Can Impact Those Who Are Far Removed From Event

As what could easily be considered the worst week in Boulder’s history begins to come to a close, many people remain shocked, saddened and hurt. The grief in the city and around Colorado are hard to deal with for many people.

Another mass shooting in Colorado has people reacting in many different ways.

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about that,” said Vincent Atchity, President and CEO of Mental Health Colorado. “This is not mental health by any stretch of the imagination and we’ll all traumatized this way repeatedly.”

Along the community memorial in front of King Soopers, they have left flowers and shed tears. They have prayed and left notes. Some had a connection with the King Soopers store, the workers or were friends of those killed. But many, many more came.

“I don’t think we have to actually present when a trauma happens to feel the trauma of that event,” said Karl Shackelford, a counselor with Peaks and Creeks Life Development who specializes in grieving.

Shackelford led a group session with people grieving from other losses this week and people there talked about wanting to reach out and hug the families and friends of victims who are hurting from the Boulder shooting.

Grief he said, must be recognized, “It needs to come out. It needs to have the light of day shined on it for us to examine it for what it is to understand it.”

Part of that process is to find the right people to talk to.

“It’s healthy to talk to friends and family, especially to talk to those who create a safe place for us,” he explained.

When there is a mass shooting there is an attempt to find blame and there are political differences and debates, “We can share we can agree we can disagree, but we can get out what we’re feeling and have others who will help us to process that.”

To help someone grieving, listening is critical.

“I don’t think it’s impossible to listen and hear without having a judgment of some kind. I think it’s a skill that we have of empathy… Instead of having a win–lose approach, maybe we should have an understanding, be understood approach,” said Shackelford.

Things change in our minds about safety with mass shootings in America.

“It’s not great to think that every time you drop off your children at school to that you don’t know what kind of safety they’re going to experience over the course of the day. Or if you’re going to venture into a grocery store wondering what your level of safety is like. And to have sort of escape routes scenarios running through your mind,” said Atchity.

It hasn’t helped that there has been trouble with mental health over the past year during the pandemic he noted. Drug and alcohol abuse and suicide have risen. Complaints of stress, anxiety and depression are up. Atchity says the phrase social distancing didn’t help. He feels it should have been, “physical distancing.”

“Very few of us are naturally wired to be hermits. We make our health and well-being in communities and networks of connection.”

It all adds to the pressures we feel as we are exposed to the world’s problems. More news from around the world at a constant pace on social media and television have given people more to handle than a couple of decades ago.

“We did not have a constant stream all day long of information from the greater world outside that is stuff beyond the scope of our ability to have any influence over or manage… Our scope of operations is limited to what is literally within eyesight and arms reach in our neighborhoods and workplaces. We are scaled to that level of stress and management but when on top of that we add in endless detail and updates about everything distressing that’s happening all over the planet, that’s a lot more than what we are caught up with in terms of our evolutionary capacity for absorbing information and processing it meaningfully.”

That is not to say that people should hide their heads in the sand from the shooting in Boulder. It is close. But compounding the grief over the shooting with other tragedy and difficulty that does not directly impact our lives can make it harder. There are methods to try to handle the sadness. Talking and even getting outside are helpful.

“Making sure that you’re broadening your scope beyond the human realm so that you are re-framing your place in the larger world of nature,” said Atchity. “All that means is get outside and feel the sunshine and listen for the birds and see what’s starting to pop up in springtime.”

The Disaster Distress Helpline can provide immediate assistance to anyone who is seeking help in coping with the mental or emotional effects of the mass shooting in Boulder.

Anyone can call 1-800-985-5990 at any time for immediate crisis counseling. Helpline specialists are trained to assist a wide range of symptoms.

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