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Tragedy in a Community: The Balance of Support and Privacy

When tragedy strikes it is our natural spirit to want to do something to manage our own feelings of helplessness and compassion. But perhaps in addition to what we do we need to focus on what we don't do as well.
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I am proud to say that I am from Cleveland. It is a city filled with beautiful museums, incredible restaurants and the most passionate sports fans. It is a city that has stood proud despite many years of being labeled the "mistake on the lake" and worse. We are O-H-I-O proud and strongly believe in the power of supporting our own.

Our strength as a community has been put to the test over the last several years. In 2009, it was discovered that 11 women had been held captive, raped and murdered inside a home in a residential neighborhood. On Feb. 27, 2012, many of us parents woke to cell phone messages that our schools were in lockdown. Quickly the news came that there had been a shooting at our local high school. Three students were killed and one paralyzed. And most recently, three young women were found alive after 10 years of imprisonment. Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight and Amanda Berry are well known names in the Cleveland area, as families held vigils and kept their faces in the media throughout the time they went missing for over a decade.

Each and every tragic event brings out our community as we set up fundraisers for the families and the victims. We deliver flowers, balloons and cards to show our support and our concern. Communities are transformed by police cars, yellow tape, media helicopters vans and reporters from all over the world. Local media struggles to tell the stories with sensitivity and accuracy but can often be perceived as intrusive as they knock on doors and try to capture images of the victims.

When tragedy strikes it is our natural spirit to want to do something to manage our own feelings of helplessness and compassion. But perhaps in addition to what we do we need to focus on what we don't do as well. Privacy is often what families and victims beg for and so desperately need for healing. For victims the road to healing begins with feeling safe and secure. This comes with time and private reflection with those that they love. While many of us are eager to hear their stories and want to show them that we did not forget them, that we are here to celebrate their release. We also need to be patient and let them take the lead on when they are ready for our community support.

As with most stories of abduction and abuse, there were signs and warnings. Some are subtle and some more obvious, but they are present. What to do with those signs remains the challenge for a community. Do you call the police because a neighbor seems odd and has plastic covering his windows? Does a family report their loved one to the authorities because they have a lock on a basement door? How far can law enforcement go with investigating all of these complaints? Clearly, the scope of this blog cannot begin to address all of these answers, but there is value in raising the questions and challenging ourselves to remain involved and aware. Some of our most vulnerable citizens including our frail seniors and children need watchful eyes who are willing to speak up on their behalf.

Research shows us that sometimes when we witness abusive situations occurring to others or we see signs of neglect, we convince ourselves that "somebody" else will take care of it. We may struggle with not wanting to get involved in something that we may think is "none of our business." And often we lack the courage or the knowledge about what to do. Perhaps the best that Cleveland's own can do for each other is to turn these tragedies into an opportunity for us to get more involved in our communities. To educate ourselves about resources that we can turn to when we need to report incidences of suspected abuse or neglect. And maybe we need to learn to give ourselves permission to say, "It is my business."

For more by Lori Stevic-Rust, Ph.D., ABPP, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.