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School Safety Partners
Stress reactions can take on many forms, such as physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral and spiritual.
Deer Creek Middle School, Littleton, Colorado
February 23, 2010 ‐‐ In response to today's tragic shooting at Deer Creek Middle School, the school will be closed Wednesday, February 24, and counselors will be available for students beginning at 7:30 am at Stony
Creek Elementary. The following guidance on general traumatic stress reactions is provided by Dr. Sonayia Shepherd, a school safety expert with Safe Havens International, and one of the authors of Safe Schools Planning Guide for All Hazards, published by Jane's. According to the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, before, during, and after a crisis students and staff may begin experiencing “stress reactions.” These stress reactions can take on many forms, such as physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral and spiritual. Physical stress reactions may be present during all phases of a crisis. If a child experiences a stress reaction such as insomnia, they may fall asleep in school. It is very important to inform teachers and staff of these stress reactions so they are aware of what they are looking for. It is also necessary to incorporate protocols on referring children for psychological help if these symptoms do not subside.
Typical symptoms include:
• Gastrointestinal • Muscular • Cardiovascular • Respiratory • Fatigue
Cognitive stress reactions may include several areas that may be affected. For example, it is very normal for a person to forget easily. Symptoms include:
• Time Expansion Slowed Thinking • Difficulty Making Decisions • Dissociation • Memory Problems • Confused/Disoriented • Replays Event Over and Over • Distressing Dreams • Tunnel Vision
Spiritual stress reactions can happen when a person is undergoing a spiritual reaction to trauma, it is extremely important to tap into the faith based community for support. People may begin questioning their faith:
• Where is God? / Is It God’s Will? • Is God Trying to Punish Me? • Is God Testing My Faith? • What Kind of God Would Allow This?
Emotional stress reactions may present themselves in various forms. For example, someone in a room full of crowded people may exhibit the same signs as someone who has been abandoned. Understanding emotional stress reactions for school personnel is essential. Faculty may also need to be observed and referred for long term assistance.
Signs may include:
• Shock/Numbness • Denial • Fear/Panic • Grief/Sadness • Intense Anger • Feels Abandoned • Withdrawal/Isolation
Behavioral responses to trauma may occur at any time. Observing students before, during and after school hours affords a good opportunity to note any changes in activity levels such as sleeping, social interactions and playing.
• Suspicious/Cautious • Repeats the Story • Rapid Intense Mood Changes • Antisocial Acts • Intense Startle Reflex • Alcohol/Drug Abuse • Changes in Activity Levels (eating, sleeping, play, etc.)
It is important to understand that surviving a traumatic event may intensify existing conditions such as:
• attention‐deficit hyperactivity disorder • dissociative disorders • eating disorders • major depression • oppositional defiant disorder • phobias • separation anxiety
To help students and staff cope with stress reactions, schools should identify a “Drop‐In Room” which is a quiet place staffed with mental health personnel where students and staff can “drop in” and process reactions, talk about feelings and engage in crisis intervention activities.
In the classroom, here are a few classroom recovery activities. Make sure that they are age‐ appropriate, and get creative. Also, ensure that there are protocols in place if a child is identified as having coping problems either through writing, artwork or class discussion.
• If students are able to talk about the incident, allow time for them to talk and share feelings. • Ensure that students do not leave the classroom alone or left unattended and unsupervised. • Get back to routines as soon as possible after students have had an opportunity to express feelings. • Ensure that students most impacted do not go home to an empty home after school. Make sure that your crisis team members are aware of those students so arrangements may be made.
If you want to know more about traumatic stress here are some resources:
• • • •
www.disaster‐resource.com www.va.gov (Department of Veteran Affairs) www.icisf.org (International Critical Incident Stress Foundation) www.apa.org (American Psychological Association)
Age‐specific trauma information
Adolescents 12 to 17 years old may exhibit responses similar to those of adults, including flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbing, avoidance of any reminders of the traumatic event, depression, substance abuse, problems with peers, and anti‐social behavior. Also common are withdrawal and isolation, physical complaints, suicidal thoughts, school avoidance, academic decline, sleep disturbances, and confusion. The adolescent may feel extreme guilt over his or her failure to prevent injury or loss of life, and may harbor revenge fantasies that interfere with recovery from the trauma. Physical Manifestations of Trauma in 12‐17 year olds *Chills * Dizziness * Thirst * Weakness * Fatigue * Chest Pains * Nausea * Headaches * Fainting * Elevated Blood Pressure * Vomiting *Muscle Tremors Remember… Some youngsters are more vulnerable to trauma than others, for reasons scientists don't fully understand. It has been shown that the impact of a traumatic event is likely to be greatest in
the child or adolescent who previously has been the victim of child abuse or some other form of trauma, or who already had a mental health problem. And the youngster who lacks family support is more at risk for a poor recovery. Parents, Faculty and Staff should… Find ways to protect children from further harm and from further exposure to traumatic stimuli. If possible, create a safe haven for them. Protect children from onlookers and the media covering the story. When possible, direct children ‐‐ who are able ‐‐ to walk away from the site of violence or destruction, away from severely injured survivors, and away from continuing danger. Kind but firm direction is needed. Identify children in acute distress and stay with them until initial stabilization occurs. Acute distress includes panic (marked by trembling, agitation, rambling speech, becoming mute, or erratic behavior) and intense grief (signs include loud crying, rage, or immobility). Use a supportive and compassionate verbal or non‐verbal exchange (such as a hug, if appropriate) with the child to help him or her feel safe. However brief the exchange, or however temporary, such reassurances are important to children. Sources: • http://www.schoolsafetypartners.org/Help‐Center/deer_creek.html • http://sc.jeffco.k12.co.us/education/school/school.php • http://www.safehavensinternational.org