Shooting In San Bernardino: 5 Mental Health Experts On How To Process Tragedy

Editor's Note: The interviews in this piece were done in response to the mass shooting earlier this year at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.

Today, there was a deadly mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, at the Inland Regional Center, a facility for people with developmental disabilities. Several people were reported killed and as many as 20 people were wounded. Details are still unfolding as police continue their investigation.

Unfortunately, mass shootings here in the U.S. have become commonplace; they're no longer surprising, but they're just as upsetting every time. We don't know what to think or do or say in the wake of such horror. So, we've turned to the mental health experts and leaders in the wellness community to get their insight about how to process this devastating event and our collective grief:

Charlie Knoles, Vedic Meditation Teacher:

Start by reassuring yourself that you are safe and loved and extend that assurance to anyone in your life who is sensitive or feels vulnerable, especially children. Don't fight your natural grief, anger, fear, or emotional numbness. Instead allow your body to go through its natural reactions while breathing deeply and relaxing into your outward breath.

The most important thing we need to do is to send compassion to the affected families.

If you feel a desire to speak out or take action remember that others might not have found that calm in the center of the emotional storm. Seek connection and communication rather than arguments and a need to be proven right. All the heroes in this story acted from love. Be like them.

Margaret Paul, Therapist:

The most important thing we need to do is to send compassion to the affected families. It's also important to reach out to others for comfort. No one can manage this alone.

This kind of senseless loss is one of the hardest to manage, and it's vital that people allow themselves to fully grieve, with compassion, each time the heartbreak, grief and helplessness over the loss comes up. Problems occur when the pain gets stuck inside.

Light Watkins, Meditation Practitioner & Teacher:

Whenever people act out or bad things happen in the world, I remind myself that there are also millions upon millions of acts of kindness that we will probably never hear about, and that there is still plenty of goodness happening in the world too.

Megan Hale, Therapist:

We may never know or understand what compels someone to commit a heinous act. We may never be able to put ourselves in their shoes for what would possess them to take another person's life. But that does not mean we’re helpless. That does not mean we must live in fear. What I do know is that anyone who commits an act of violence such as this is hurting. Hurt people hurt people.

What each of us can do right this very moment is to check with our own hurt. Encourage others to seek help for theirs. We all must take a stand for healing and helping others, especially ourselves.

And instead of turning the other cheek, choose to move closer. Consider getting involved with Mental Health First Aid. Consider getting involved with NAMI. We never know who we may impact along the way, but we all have to take action if we want things to change.

Dr. Leslie Carr, Licensed Clinical Psychologist:

America is a country with some very lonely and isolated people in it, largely because of our longstanding emphasis on individuality. Human beings are not meant to live like this; we're social beings and we thrive when we operate in community.

While issues like gun control and access to mental healthcare are hugely important — we're not going to solve the issue of mass violence until we come together to address what has truly become an epidemic: a country full of lonely people, who are going crazy in their isolation. This is our collective illness — the rot in our nation's emotional basement.

Megan Bruneau, Psychotherapist:

Part of me wants to offer healing words, but a stronger part of me thinks sitting with these uncomfortable feelings of anger, grief, shock, anxiety, disgust, and confusion is what motivates change. If we always apply the same healing "balm" following events like this, blaming "sick" individuals or absent parents, we absolve responsibility and continue permitting it to happen.

If we listen to these valid feelings, we have an opportunity to actually hear the truth: that there is dysfunction in our society, and what we've been doing so far isn't working; that we need to bind together, take action, and inspire change — both in policy and in the way we make sense of these tragedies.

Of course it's important to offer emotional support to those closely affected; those paralyzed and forever impacted. But for the rest of us — those of us shaking our heads with heavy hearts — instead of immediately soothing or dampening our pain; then forgetting about it until it inevitably happens again, let's use this pain as a catalyst to intervention: to empathy-training in schools; to gun control; to restricted access to violent video games. Let's take responsibility for creating a safer tomorrow. Let's find meaning in this together.

Erin Davidson, Recent Psychology Graduate:

It is easy to become numb to horrific stories like these that we see on the news. We do not like to think about death, especially random, unpreventable death. So, in order to avoid thinking about death we mentally explain how this could not happen to us (i.e. I do not live in Oregon, I do not attend college, I would have known how to stay safe in this situation). It is vital that we remember that this could happen to us and the only way to limit this possibility is to bring about change on a societal level. The best way to honor the lives of the victims is to use this tragedy to create social change through the most powerful voice you have: your vote.

We invite you express any feelings you might be experiencing during this tragic time in the comments below.

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