Addressing residual trauma following Las Vegas attack

Addressing trauma after mass casualty events. Photo courtesy of CNN video.

SCRANTON (WOLF) -- As our nation is imprinted with faces of victims from the Las Vegas attack, many survivors now face the aftermath of coping with unthinkable trauma.

"The senseless nature of the violence is the most jarring, and that it happened in such a public venue and the fact that it's 500 people or more were shot by someone who they've never wronged in any way shape or form. I think that that fundamentally shakes many of our sense of safety and well being in the world," said Matthew Schaffer.

Schaffer directs the Psychological Services Center at Marywood University. He says for non-victims, continuing to watch the violent scenes - of this incident or others - and imagining oneself in that scenario can create a vicarious trauma response.

"It's important to empathize. It's a terrible, horrible tragedy," he said. "But it's not our individual experiences. When we impose ourselves there, we increase the likelihood of us having a traumagenic response. So, keeping that safe distance and keeping that perspective is absolutely critical."

He also says events like these can be a trigger for people who may have experienced their own trauma.

"It's not unusual, even for people that haven't developed PTSD. It serves as a trauma reminder. It reminds us of our experience, times that we were hurt, and d grounding ourselves, recognizing that you're safe and that you're okay. Getting connected with your support system, the people that you love and care about, that love and care about you, engage with them, and then doing activities, leaving the house and avoiding isolation." said Schaffer.

State Trooper Deanna Piekanski says it's crucial to talk about horrific experiences, something state police do after serving as first responders.

"We have people come in and talk to the troopers. We debrief them and talk to them about the situation - what happened, how are they feeling. We might check with them the next day and two days later, and just keep checking on them and make sure that they're okay with what they're dealing with, what they saw," she says, noting the importance of having a support system - and being one.

"Let them know that you're there to listen to them. You know, to help them through it, or even refer them to somebody to talk to. Just let them know you're there for them. If they need to cry, let them cry. If they want to scream, let them scream. Just get them the help they need and be a friend, be a shoulder."

Schaffer also says it's important to remember that while a mass casualty situation is possible, people's fear of it occurring is much greater than the statistical likelihood.

"We don't want to magnify the probability. It's exceptionally unlikely that we're going to be the victim of violence from an unrelated party in our lives. It happens and I'm not minimizing anyone's experience, but it is not normative."

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