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A psychological perspective on events in Parkland

By Rebecca LiVigni, Saint Louis University

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Dr. Terri L. Weaver sat down with me to reflect on the recent tragic shooting that occurred Feb. 14 at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Rebecca:Tell me a little about your background and what your research interests are.

Weaver:So, I am a professor of psychology here in St. Louis. I am a clinical psychologist and my area of research and clinical interests are the psychological impacts of exposure to traumatic events with a particular interest in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the associations between PTSD and different emotional and physical health problems.

R:From your research and experience, how do you think this traumatic event will impact the students and victims?

W:Well, it’s hard to say exactly how they will be impacted, but we know based on looking at research of other mass shootings that people can be significantly impacted. If you think about it, the shooting occurred in a place that is really supposed to be a safe place. So, having life threatening violence and intentional violence that occurs in a safe space—a space that students go to every single day—can be very scary and very difficult.

R:Can you explain some of the differences in reactions that would occur amongst the victims?

W:There will be some gradations of how students are impacted, but the people who may be the most affected are those who were closest to the violence. There are those who were injured, or who were close in terms of a friend being severely injured or killed, or they may have directly witnessed the violence. Then there’s the impact of the aftermath of the violence, which when it occurs in a place of daily life like that, it provides these additional disruptions and reminders of the traumatic event that occurred. Forever this school will be associated with that, not only for them, but for the whole community.

R:What are some ways that victims can heal moving forward?

W:During recovery, we encourage people to practice good self-care, and to try to get sleep, [and] to try to allow your body and your mind to emotionally heal from an experience. But also allowing a person to talk about [it], [and] meeting them where they are. I think the students having the opportunity to speak out and express their concerns with policies is very healthy and empowering. When people make meaning out of their experience, it can be very helpful in terms of recovery.

R:How do these kinds of events impact our greater society, even for the students at SLU?

W:That’s a really good question. I really do think that safety comes from cohesive communities. When people look out for one another and are knowledgeable about risky situations and how to respond to them, then I feel that will lead to greater safety for all of us. What I would not want to see come out of this is increased stigmatizing of mental disorders, and for the most part, mental disorders do not make people more violent.

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