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Advice for citizens affected by the shootings at the Ward Parkway Shopping Center

Area mental health experts offer advice to citizens affected by the shootings at the Ward Parkway Shopping Center.


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Area mental health experts offer advice to citizens affected by the shootings at the Ward Parkway Shopping Center

Many Kansas Citians endured a terrifying afternoon Sunday as a shooter moved through the Ward Parkway Shopping Center.  Persons touched by this shooting, especially those whose experiences were close to the event, may go through a wide range of emotional responses in the hours and days immediately following.  For most, these will get better with time as the comfort of friends and family helps them work through this harrowing experience.  Should those emotions continue to cause trouble for them as the weeks go by, Kansas City area mental health providers are prepared to make safe and effective assistance available through a network of professional service agencies. 

This network has worked for several years in conjunction with the Regional Homeland Security Coordinating Committee and the Greater Kansas City Chapter of the American Red Cross to ensure that the very best in practical, accessible, evidence based help is available in the event of community disasters, terrorist acts, or other large scale episodes.  Assistance is available in all parts of the region through not for profit agencies and professional staff who, in conjunction with nationally established resources in trauma and disaster response, have been trained in the best techniques current research and practice can offer for assessment, intervention and support. 

The attached information provides some quick, useful, and very practical suggestions for dealing with the immediate aftermath.  Persons with additional questions or needs should be encouraged to contact the CommCare crisis line at 888-279-8188 for additional information or assistance in locating an accessible source of professional help.

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Suggestions for dealing with emotional response to a crisis

From the Mental Health Subcommittee of the Regional Homeland Security Coordinating Committee

When bad things happen . . .

None of us really knows what to say or what to do in situations like this.  Everything we usually count on to make us feel safe can be shaken as we struggle to understand what happened, how it happened, what it means, and what we’re going to do.

Our very first reactions are usually shock and disbelief, followed very quickly by a roller coaster of emotions.  We may react at one moment with intense anger or grief or fear or sadness, so strongly we may feel it’s almost out of control — the next minute, we may be back together and holding strong, only to “lose it again” later.

That back and forth experience usually starts to settle down within a few days, although it doesn’t entirely stop or go away.  You can expect every now and then to experience another moment of emotional reaction but the intensity will start to lessen as time goes on.  The time they last will shorten and the time between will increase as the days pass.

While we can’t take away or prevent all the discomfort, there are some things we can suggest that have helped others work their way through situations like this.  They don’t cover everything or everyone, and they’re not presented as is a formula for your own best approaches.  Use them as a starting place to decide what will work best for you.

Places to start . . .

  1. There are no set rules for how to approach this.  There are indeed some things we have learned from working with people who have experienced similar events, but no two circumstances are ever the same nor do any two persons react in exactly the same ways.  Knowing that some reactions seem to be common, though, can help the intensity of what we’re feeling seem less frightening.  It can also help to understand that the range of normal responses is extremely broad — it’s the situation that’s abnormal, not you or your reactions.
  2. Your body reacts strongly to things like this.  It’s part of the “fight or flight” response all humans have programmed into us.  It also means that your appetite may be affected for a while, your sleep patterns may be altered, and you may feel agitated or exhausted—sometimes both.  Trying to sleep when your body won’t cooperate can add to your anxiety; trying to eat when your body isn’t ready can make you feel ill or uncomfortable.  Many people find that it helps to work back into normal patterns a bit at a time by napping when you feel the need, eating small amounts as hunger happens, and exercising gently at regular intervals to help your body restore balance.
  3. Give yourself some extra “space.”  Especially in the first days and weeks the personal impact will come and go — sometimes when you’re least expecting it and often when it’s least convenient.  Whenever possible, go ahead and react.  If you need to step away from what you’re doing for a few minutes or shut the door and be alone until it passes, do what you need to do.  But try to come back and complete what you were doing before as soon as you feel able — that’s how we start to regain control.
  4. Be sensitive to those around you.  Most of us tend to turn inward when dealing with a major change in our lives.  This can sometimes leave us less aware of those around us at the times we need each other most.  A simple touch on the shoulder when someone around you is passing through a tough moment or saying “I’ll be okay” to a family member concerned about your feelings can help more than you may realize.  It really is the little things that seem to help the most.
  5. Talk when you need to; listen when you can.  It really is that simple in the long run.  There are lots of things we each can do to help the process get started and keep it moving along, but the real work of moving forward is done one day at a time, one person to another.  You get to choose who you want to talk with and when you want to talk, but talking with those you trust is helpful for most.
  6. You don’t have to talk when you don’t need to.  It’s important not to run away from your feelings but it can also be important to give yourself some distance from what has happened and your reactions to it.  Lots of people, many of whom may have no real connection to what happened, will have comments, questions or suggestions.  Some will be welcome but others — even from persons sincerely wanting to be helpful — may seem intrusive, clumsy or calloused.  It’s perfectly acceptable to say “I’d rather talk about something else” and take the conversation in another direction.
  7. Plan your day in smaller bites.  You can expect that you may need some time before things become routine again.  It may help to focus on basic things in your life and work for a while, especially those you can interrupt without losing your rhythm.  Where possible, lighten your load and your expectations to give yourself room to recover.
  8. One day at a time.  It takes more than a day or two to work through something like this and some days will be better than others.  Try to take each day as a new challenge and don’t be too upset about the occasional false start or seeming setback.  If your reactions still cause you trouble after three or four weeks have passed, there are steps you can take to put your recovery back on track.  You can contact the CommCare crisis line at 888-279-8188 for more assistance any time you feel the need.
  9. Trust the things that have worked for you.   Most of us have been through very difficult things in our lives.  If we’ve discovered places that give healthy solace, it’s wise to revisit them—if we’ve tried other things that don’t work (things like self-medication or drinking, for example), it’s wise to steer well away from those. 

If it works for you, pass it on.  People and communities do get stronger when they work through difficult times.  Events like this appear at first as overwhelming threats but there is real strength in getting through them intact and together.  Draw strength from those around you and share your strength with others.

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From the Mental Health Subcommittee of the Regional Homeland Security Coordinating Committee

For information on the Mental Health Subcommittees of MARC’s Regional Homeland Security Coordinating Committee, contact

Betsy vanderVelde, President
The Family Conservancy

Ms. vandeVelde  is chair of the subcommittee and can speak to its origin, purpose, and development.

For information regarding current research and best practices in response to disaster and terrorist events, contact

Eric Vernberg, Ph.D.
Professor, Child Clinical Psychology
University of Kansas

Dr. Vernberg is a nationally recognized expert in early intervention and treatment of traumatic stress, and has served on a wide range of expert bodies, including the SAMHSA/NCTSN Psychological First Aid project accepted as the current standard of early care.

For information regarding training and preparation of the local provider network, contact

Richard Gist, Ph.D.
Principal Assistant to the Director/KCFD
816.784.9242 or 816.719.4411 (cell)

Dr. Gist is a public health psychologist (behavioral epidemiology and system design) with an international reputation in community programming related to disaster and emergency response and has helped design and develop a range of community programs dealing with crisis intervention; he has also been a part of the SAMHSA/NCTSN Psychological First Aid project.

For information about how the local network has been used in other disasters (specifically the May 4, 2003 tornadoes) and how Red Cross responds to mental health emergencies, contact

Susan Sollars
Red Cross Emergency Services
816. 841.5245


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