April 11, 2008

For Virginia Tech Community, Anxiety and Sadness May Increase on Anniversary of School Shootings

WASHINGTON-- April 16 marks one year since the most deadly school shooting in United States history. As the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings nears, survivors, victim's families, classmates, first responders and the extended community of Blacksburg, Virginia, may re-experience many of the same feelings they felt a year ago.

Anniversary dates of traumatic events can reactivate thoughts and feelings from the actual event, and victims may experience peaks of anxiety and depression, according to psychologist Dr. Susan Silk of the American Psychological Association's Disaster Response Network.

"Residents of Blacksburg and the entire Virginia Tech community are likely to remember the events of April 16, 2007 clearly and many will feel emotions more intensely than usual," said Dr. Silk. "Reliving the sadness is a very natural part of the healing process. But there is no one right way to heal. Try not to compare your reactions to those of others. Each person is different, and each individual will find his or her own way of coping with the memories."

Some of the reactions those affected may experience as the anniversary date nears include difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, irritable outbursts, nightmares, difficulty falling or staying asleep and feelings of detachment from others.

APA offers the following coping strategies to help people through traumatic anniversaries:

  • Recognize and acknowledge feelings you may experience. Understand that your feelings are part of the recovery process.

  • Find healthy ways to cope with your distress. Share memories and feelings with someone you trust or just spend time with friends and family. Activities that allow your mind to focus on something other than these memories are a good coping strategy for some people. Contemplative activities like reading, thinking or just taking a walk are also a good approach. Avoid reactions that become part of the problem such as drinking or using drugs.

  • Engage in an activity that honors lost loved ones. You may want to plant a tree in their memory, make a donation to their favorite charity, participate in activities your loved one would have enjoyed or share happy memories with others. Consider volunteering; you may find that helping others actually helps you.

  • Use your support system. Reach out to friends and family. Don't isolate yourself.

  • If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consider talking to a psychologist who can help you develop strategies to cope with your traumatic reactions.

For more information on managing traumatic stress, visit http://www.apahelpcenter.org/.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 148,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association