Texas tragedy: Bay Area mental health experts address ways to process grief, help children cope

Amanda del Castillo Image
Wednesday, May 25, 2022
Bay Area mental health experts address Texas tragedy, trauma
Bay Area mental health experts are sharing ways we might process the news of the mass shooting at Texas elementary school.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Bay Area mental health experts are sharing ways we might process the news of yet another mass shooting.

On Tuesday evening, the death toll in the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, rose to 22, with at least 19 children, one teacher, a second school employee and the shooter's grandmother killed, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

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Bay Area residents learned details of Tuesday's devastation from a distance.

For parents and caregivers, Stanford Children's Health Child Psychologist, Dr. Hilit Kletter said if the family is listening or watching developments, "It's better to do so together with your kids so that you can be available to find out what they know, what they've heard, correct any misinformation -- really let them ask questions."

"With teenagers, you might be able to get into more philosophical conversations of why this happened and what does it mean," Dr. Kletter told ABC7 News. "Younger children are a lot more concrete and going to be focused much more on their safety."

Safety at schools, grocery stores, places of worship - wherever.

Dr. Kletter said safety is the biggest piece that parents can convey, regardless of their child's age. She said timing is also important.

"Finding a time when you can actually set aside, you're calm, you're not having to think about anything else. And you can really dedicate the time to be speaking with your child about this," Kletter added.

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Professor of Public Health at Cal State East Bay, Dr. Michael Stanton, reminded that in these conversations, it's okay to admit we don't have all the answers to the seemingly unrelenting cycle of senseless violence.

"There was already a shooting recently in Buffalo. Now a new shooting in Texas," Dr. Stanton shared. "I think we're not really designed for processing that much grief and violence."

Experts said limiting exposure to the trauma and tragedy could mean simply turning off technology.

Santa Clara University psychology professor Dr. Thomas Plante said, "It's one thing to learn about what happens, it's another thing to go down a rabbit hole of learning about every detail about tragic events."

"So there is some wisdom about being thoughtful about how much news to take in about each one of these kinds of crises," he continued.

Dr. Stanton shared, "We're exhausted. And I think what it means though, is that, we do need to know when to turn it off. And we do need to, at the same time, do our part to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Meantime, experts suggest focusing on what can be controlled. This includes self-care, exercising, eating well, confiding in others and more.

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"Have a normal sleep schedule," Dr. Stanton shared. "Get to bed on time."

Even taking time and focusing on meaningful ways to make change.

Dr. Kletter told ABC7 News, "The uncertainty, the frustration- I'm sure all of us are experiencing a whole whirlwind of emotions. But the piece I like to emphasize is focusing on what are the things that we can do."

Beyond what was mentioned above, Kletter emphasized having social supports, exercising coping skills of what we do for enjoyment and relaxation, and finding the things that energize us and give us a sense of purpose and meaning.

"All of those things collectively are things that can enhance resilience," Dr. Kletter said. "And it's really important not to wait until those moments that we are already really stressed, to then try that out."

Tuesday's mass shooting is now added to a list of recent tragedies that are taking a toll on mental health.

"We don't live in a risk-free environment, we just don't," Dr. Plante told ABC7 News. "And so we hope and pray for the best."

He continued, "Let's take care of each other. A little compassion, a little kindness goes a long way."

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