Many of the surviving victims of Sunday’s horrific Orlando shooting were in surgery earlier this week. My hope is that every one of them will heal quickly and get back to their families, friends, and communities. Too often, though, we think of healing in the physical sense -- stitching wounds and setting bones. But what about the invisible wounds? Those that we can’t see but are just as serious. How are we going to take care of the mental health needs of those who survived, the families who lost loved ones and friends, and the communities that feel the impact most acutely?
The sad truth is that there is no national SWAT team specifically for mental health counseling. There is no FBI for trauma. There is no Homeland Security for PTSD. Today, Orlando needs to come to grips with this heinous act of violence. Tomorrow, we need to respond again to the trauma that the community will feel.
“How are we going to take care of the mental health needs of those who survived, the families who lost loved ones and friends, and the communities that feel the impact most acutely?”
I know this process all too well. My family has walked the path that Orlando is beginning to walk. Two of my uncles were murdered in front of millions of Americans, which included my father, aunts, and cousins. My father suffered in silent desperation for the rest of his life with the unprocessed trauma of these events.
“There is no national SWAT team specifically for mental health counseling. There is no FBI for trauma. There is no Homeland Security for PTSD.”
In the weeks and months that follow, we need to have a national conversation about establishing national rapid response mental health teams that can be deployed in such a crisis and how the system must address the ongoing trauma the Orlando community will face. All of us will have to step up and be a voice in how to create a solution that stands firm against the political winds.
We know what happens when trauma goes unprocessed. Children, for example, who experience adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, like being abandoned by a parent or witnessing domestic violence, have higher rates of depression, drug use, impaired work performance, and other poor mental and general health outcomes as adults.
But trauma is not destiny if it is addressed and processed with trained mental health professionals.
We need to respond to the trauma flowing from the Orlando shooting, and other events like it, at every level. The children of Orlando are going back to school. Their teachers and school administrators will need to address the trauma of losing loved ones, and the terror of seeing the images on the news.
People who lost friends and family members are going back to work. Employers will need to make sure their employee assistance programs and health plans have high-quality mental health services, and an adequate number of providers. Every part of the community has a role to play.
“My family has walked the path that Orlando is beginning to walk. Two of my uncles were murdered in front of millions of Americans.”
It has been inspiring to hear of the people who are waiting in line to donate blood. Americans are coming together in the ways we always have and always will. Together, we must take the next step and go beyond taking care of each other physically, to also take care of each other emotionally and spiritually.