Coping With Tragedy
People react in different ways. Here's some advice and resources.
Orlando residents who are seeking counseling in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shootings are expressing a mixture of grief, anxiety, anger, confusion and shock.
For the devastated individuals whose friends or family members were among the 49 killed by Omar Mateen, “a lot of crisis counseling this soon after a disaster is going to be just listening,” says Carla Bresnahan, a licensed mental health counselor in Orlando.
For those who made it out of the Pulse nightclub alive, survivor guilt is likely an issue, Bresnahan says, and the counselor’s role is “reassuring people that they did the best they could do under the circumstances.”
Shelley Rodgers, marketing and communications director of the Victim Service Center of Central Florida, says the center's counselors saw survivors and loved ones respond to the tragedy in different ways in the immediate aftermath. “Some people were hysterical, some were crying. Some people didn’t know how to react.’’
“We're just there to provide support– whether it's a hug or a tissue. It's our job to be of whatever level of comfort we can, to ease their pain,’’ Rodgers says.
For the larger Orlando community, the outpouring of support, including the $2 million raised in one day for victims’ families, is an example of how to cope with such a tragedy, Bresnahan says.
“Some people want to get more involved,” Bresnahan says. Participating in a vigil, donating money or leaving flowers at the site of a tragedy helps people feel that they’re representing their community and being supportive. "That’s why we saw such long lines for the blood drive,” she says.
It’s crucial for people reeling from the shock of this tragedy to reach out for support, whether it be friends, family, clergy or grief counselors, Bresnahan says. Equally critical: finding some balance.
“Schedule breaks for yourself from watching the media [coverage], because it’s overwhelming,” she says. “Constant exposure heightens anxiety and fear.”
That same advice applies when children are asking questions about the shootings.
“Treat them like you treat yourself,” Bresnahan says. “You don’t want to overwhelm them with information. Limit their news and TV exposure. Give them information based on their age, little bits of what they can comprehend. A mass shooting is almost incomprehensible for an adult, much less a child.”
Given the frequency of mass shootings in the United States, counselors have plenty of experience observing the aftermath.
“What we know from community crises is that they do subside,” Bresnahan says. “The most common reaction after a disaster is that the community builds resilience, the ability to cope. People become more altruistic and reach out to others. They learn that they can survive terrible tragedy.”
But first the community has to heal.
“Healing takes time,” Bresnahan says. “It’s a process, but the events we’ve seen since this tragedy imply that the Orlando community will be hashtag Orlando Strong.”
Grief counseling services
GLBT Community Center of Central Florida and Zebra Coalition (LGBT youth) crisis hotlines in both English and Spanish: 407-822-5036 (Press 1) and 407-228-1446.
The Center is partnering with Hope and Help, Two Spirit Health Services, Zebra Coalition, Rollins College, Equality Florida, MBA Orlando, HRC, Impulse Orlando, OIC and various other local GLBT organizations to provide crisis counseling. Counseling will be available in both English and Spanish and is taking place Monday-Friday at: First Unitarian Church of Orlando, 1901 E. Robinson St., from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Miracle of Love, 741 W. Colonial Drive, Orlando, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. ; Joy Metropolitan Community Church, 2351 S. Ferncreek Ave, Orlando, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (prayer service at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 15); Hispanic Family Counseling, 6900 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Suite 402, Orlando; and at Aspire Health Services, 1800 Mercy Drive, Orlando, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Heart of Florida United Way crisis hotline available 24/7: 211
Online emotional support: HFUW.org
Support via text: Text your zip code to 898-211
Victim Service Center of Central Florida counseling hotline: 407-497-6701
UCF LGBT Student Services: Open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Offering group counseling from 1 to 2 p.m.
UCF Counseling and Psychological Services: 407-823-2811. Counseling is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.