Denver groups help trauma victims
April 21, 1999
From CNN Interactive Health Writer Sue Hoye
(CNN) -- In response to Tuesday's shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, assistance has poured in for the families and students.
Community and government agencies have been organizing volunteers to address physical and mental needs in the Denver suburb.
Fifteen people, including two teen-age suspects, were killed in the attack. Some bodies remained inside the school Wednesday as police checked for bombs and booby traps.
Counselors like Dr. Dan Mosley, chair of the Disaster Mental Health Service Team of the Mile High Red Cross, were at the high school Wednesday with the families.
Mosley's Red Cross team responds to traumas like fires, shootings and natural disasters, locally and nationally, where there may be a need for additional counselors to supplement local resources.
Team members were at the hospital with victims Tuesday, and at events around the community and an evening vigil Wednesday. Mosley said it is important to approach trauma victims cautiously and not to be too intrusive.
"Victims of trauma or loss don't necessarily need five counselors breathing down their necks," he said.
If he saw a student trembling and crying, Mosley said he would approach and say something like, "I'm with the Red Cross, and we're here to see how we can help. I wouldn't say, 'I'm a shrink.'"
It is best to let people know counseling is available and let them decide when and how to talk, Mosley said.
"Adolescents may be fearful of talking to an adult. They may feel easier talking to their peers," said Carol Hollomon, executive director of Alternatives to Family Violence, outside Denver. "That may be why there are so many gatherings around Denver today."
Hollomon, a clinical social worker, said some students may feel guilty they are alive, and it will be important for counselors to validate their experiences and not pressure them to go further.
"The next two or three weeks will be critical for these kids. They've seen things we don't expect children to see," she said.
Adolth Montaña, a counselor with Project Pave, also stressed the importance of listening when approaching any trauma victim. Project Pave works in Denver-area schools to educate about violence and prevent it.
Montaña emphasized the need to listen without judgment when a trauma sufferer chooses to talk. He said when victims initially talk to a counselor they may laugh uncontrollably or cry hysterically.
The most important thing for a counselor to do, he said, is to help victims realize they can go on.
Mosley said it can be expected that these students will have recurring fears. Their belief that the world is basically a safe place has been shattered.
The pace at which anyone heals from a trauma depends on the incident itself and the person's own psychology, he said. The amount of family support and any problems the individual had before the trauma also make a difference in how long it takes before life returns to normal.
"They will never forget it, but they will recover," Mosley said.
Though no one can predict how long the students and families in Littleton will need counseling, mental health professionals are prepared to help as long as it takes.
The Colorado Psychiatric Society is arranging for psychiatrists to be available over the next several weeks, and not just during the heat of the crisis.
The Colorado Psychological Association has set up a referral line for mental health professionals to offer their services through the Mental Health Association of Colorado (MHAC).
MHAC is acting as a clearinghouse for mental health workers, compiling a list of volunteers for the Mile High United Way and Jefferson County Mental Health.
Jefferson County Mental Health has spearheaded the counseling effort, making sure victims receive the assistance they need.
MHAC is offering schools speakers on grieving and loss, suicide and anger management or any topic the school might want addressed, said Allison Lockwood, MHAC director of marketing and communication. The organization is also arranging a community meeting on posttraumatic stress disorder for early May.
The Mile High Red Cross also has started the "Community Healing Fund," which has already raised close to $100,000 for victim assistance.
According to Red Cross spokeswoman Danielle Corriveau, response has come from all over the country.
School cleared of bombs, investigators enter
Littleton Community Network
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