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  Long-term mental health needs
  The ongoing process of recovery. Healing takes time and everyone reacts to tragedies differently. The rate of recovery differs for each person based on many factors, such as age, experience and closeness to the incident.

  • Establish a routine and strive to achieve a “new normal” to help students and staff recover. While things will never be quite the same, students and staff will come to realize a new equilibrium can be achieved.
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  • Provide support to students. Click here for tips for teachers. Click here for tips for parents and other adults. Click here for information about the grieving process.

  • Continue to provide mental health support and encourage participation. Teachers should not be expected to provide mental health treatment; experts should be available for students and staff.

  • Encourage staff use of the district’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Provide in-house or contracted mental health services to help employees deal with personal problems.

  • Have guest experts meet with staff and parents about the issues related to post-traumatic stress.

  • Enhance communication between home and school and let parents know if their children are exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress.

  • Seek help from other communities that experienced a similar tragedy.

tool icon Common reactions to crisis. Trauma can change the way those involved look at the world and make them feel less safe and secure. Remember that not only staff and students at the affected school, but also those at neighboring schools and perhaps the entire district may experience stress and have emotional and physical responses to the crisis. Click here for tips on how teachers can help children.

After a traumatic event, most people will go through a cycle of grief and eventually return to a “new normal.” Reactions will depend on the severity of the trauma, prior experiences, personality, coping mechanisms and availability of support. For some, the trauma will become a growth experience. For others, post-traumatic stress will have lifelong, negative implications, and they will never fully recover.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can occur after a traumatic event, is marked by feelings such as fear, confusion and anger. When these symptoms don’t go away or get worse, it can disrupt normal daily activities and trigger self-destructive behaviors. It’s important that children and adults get help if they exhibit these symptoms. Many educators post this list of common reactions in their teachers’ lounges as a means of informing school staff about possible reactions for their students and themselves. In addition to being informative, having the list posted also serves as a form of permission to feel the full range of feelings that bubble up in the aftermath of crisis. Continue to monitor students and staff for signs of PTSD.

After a trauma, both children and adults may experience:

  • Guilt and self-blame. Students and staff might feel that they should have done more to help during the crisis or to prevent the crisis. Many will feel guilty that they survived when others didn’t.

  • Hopelessness and depression. A traumatic event changes how people feel about their personal safety, and they may feel helpless and depressed. They may feel out of control, like they’ll never stop crying.

  • Misuse of drugs, alcohol and food. People may turn to substances to ease the psychological pain. Loss of appetite or compulsive eating can occur.

  • Sleep disorders, including insomnia or nightmares, are common reactions to stress.

  • Numbness and withdrawal. To avoid feeling the pain, people may withdraw from family, friends and activities.

  • Physical problems. Stress often manifests itself through headaches, stomachaches, sore shoulders and other physical problems.

In addition, students may experience:

  • Fear, panic and overconcern about safety. When events outside their control occur, children may experience fear that something else will happen.

  • Difficulty with concentration and school performance. When students are upset, it is difficult to learn. They may have lower grades and more absences.

  • Regression. Children might return to behaviors that they had outgrown, such as thumb-sucking.

  • Anger and acting out. Often discipline incidents increase in schools after a crisis because students need an outlet for their anger and want to feel in control.

  • Clinging to family members or friends. Children need to know that their support system is there for them.

  • At-risk behaviors, such as suicide and teen pregnancy, often increase after a tragedy. Self-destructive behaviors such as cutting may also occur.

tool icon The National Association of School Psychologists suggests that children process their emotions and reactions to trauma within 24 to 36 hours. Click here for tips that teachers may use to help children. Click here for tips that parents and other caring adults can use to assist children.
Staff may feel:

  • Sense of grief and loss. Remember that staff throughout the district, and especially in neighboring schools, may have personal relationships with colleagues and perhaps students directly affected by the tragedy.

  • Inability to carry on school routines. Staff may have trouble concentrating on lessons and carrying out their daily duties. They may need more time off for physical and mental distress. Consider a “safe room” where staff can take a break when needed.

  • Heightened concern about student safety and personal well-being.

  • Sense of responsibility. Staff concerns about their responsibility for students and ability to keep students safe may increase.

  • Increased sensitivity. Staff may be jumpy and overreact to student behaviors, sounds (e.g., alarms, loud voices), etc.

Natural or manmade disasters. Natural disasters or manmade catastrophes such as building explosions, bridge collapse, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes can have serious psychological consequences similar to those experienced during acts of violence. Issues related to the destruction of homes, property, heirlooms and livelihoods will compound the feelings of loss and powerlessness. These disasters often multiply normal stress such as finances, and create new stressors from problems caused by the disaster — homelessness, transportation issues and lack of basic services. When recovering from natural or manmade disasters, it’s important to keep the family together as much as possible. Children will pick up feelings of anxiety from their parents, so it’s critical to talk about what is happening and how the family will recover together.

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