Despite the outpouring of support, are survivors of mass shootings getting the care they really need?
In the days following the three suicides of school shooting survivors and in anticipation of the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, Parkland and Columbine students took time to contemplate the attacks and how their lives have been affected. Both groups have been outspoken about the need for better approaches to assisting survivors in the days, weeks, months, and years following such tragedies.
“I remember struggling with not sleeping or eating,” shared Kyra Parrow, a survivor of the Parkland shooting.1 “I remember quitting varsity track and field after six years, giving up my position of captain. I remember struggling with an assigned essay for one class, as the constant thought of my lost friends weighed on my ability to focus. When I confided in my teacher that I was unable to write, she told me to put my grief in a box and complete the paper.”
“Two weeks after the shooting occurred, students and teachers were expected to return to the campus and the crime scene,” she added. “The mental health professionals made available were largely inaccessible and insufficient for the more than 3000 students and staff navigating their trauma and grief.”
After the shooting, Broward County Schools opened several grief counseling centers and brought in 25 mental health clinicians, two guidance counselors, and therapy dogs.1,2 However, Parrow noted that there was no consistency in the therapy offered. Students and teachers seeking counseling often saw a different clinician at each visit, which meant they did not have the opportunity to build a therapeutic alliance or receive any sense of stability. Parrow added, “The therapy dogs, painting rocks, and hugs provided were a bandage to deep mental wounds that needed stitches.”
This wave of short-term help seems to be standard operating procedure for these tragedies. Unfortunately, Parrow said she and her classmates were never given instruction or support on what to do next—how to continue to heal and cope.
1. Parrow K. Parkland students like me were told to get over our grief. We didn’t get the support to do it. Vox. March 2019. www.vox.com/first-person/2019/3/28/18282962/suicide-parkland-shooting-marjory-stoneman-douglas. Accessed May 16, 2019.
2. Phillips D. Grief counseling centers available for Stoneman Douglas students, staff, families. Sun Sentinel. February 2018. www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/parkland/florida-school-shooting/fl-sb-school-shooting-counseling-20180215-story.html. Accessed May 16, 2019.
3. Kirby J. A crisis counselor on the struggle to respond to mass tragedies. Vox. February 2018. www.vox.com/2018/2/17/17018984/florida-shooting-crisis-counselor-trauma. Accessed May 16, 2019.
4. Fieldstadt E. Sydney Aiello, a Parkland School shooting survivor, kills herself. NBC News. March 2019. www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/survivor-parkland-school-shooting-sydney-aiello-kills-herself-n986266. Accessed May 16, 2019.
5. Drash W. 20 years on, Columbine survivors tell Parkland students: ‘We’re sorry we couldn’t stop it.’ CNN. April 2019. www.cnn.com/2019/04/17/health/columbine-parkland-survivors-20-years/index.html. Accessed May 16, 2019.
6. Eagles’ Haven. www.eagleshaven.org/. Accessed May 16, 2019.
7. Nashrulla T. Parkland teens say the suicide deaths of two shooting survivors is a “wake-up call” for America. Buzzfeed News. March 2019. www.buzzfeednews.com/article/tasneemnashrulla/parkland-teens-student-suicides-shooting-wake-up-call. Accessed May 16, 2019.
8. Van Brocklin E. He was the principal at Columbine. Helping communities heal became his life’s work. The Trace. April 2019. www.thetrace.org/2019/04/columbine-school-shooting-principal-frank-deangelis/. Accessed May 16, 2019.