Texas kids struggle with trauma after school massacre

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — A girl runs and hides when she sees skinny people with long hair similar to the gunman who stormed her Uvalde, Texas, school and killed 21 people. A boy stopped making friends and playing with animals. A third child feels her heart pounding when reminded of the May 24 massacre that killed a close friend — once at such a dangerous rate that she had to be rushed to a hospital, where she stayed for weeks.

The 11-year-old girl has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Associated Press spoke to her and her family on the condition that her name not be used to protect her identity.

“I’ve never lost someone before,” she said, adding that her friend who was among the 19 students and two teachers killed in the deadliest US school massacre in a decade would encourage her to get through tough times. “He was a very strong person.”

As students prepare to return to Robb Elementary Tuesday for the first time since the massacre, PTSD symptoms are beginning to emerge. Parents find themselves unable to help, and experts worry that communities of color like the largely Hispanic city of Uvalde face disparities in access to mental health care. For low-income families, it can be even more difficult, as access to limited resources requires long waits for referrals through medical assistance programs like Medicaid.

“It’s hard to hear what these kids are going through at such a young age,” said Yuri Castro, a mother of two boys in Uvalde, whose cousin was killed in the shooting and whose sons were once taught by the two slain teachers. Castro knows of children so traumatized they have stopped talking.

School shootings dramatically change the lives of survivors. For some, symptoms persist for years, and high-quality treatment can be hard to find.

In recent years, Texas lawmakers have focused on spending money on mental health services, allocating more than $2.5 billion during the current fiscal year.

But according to the 11-year-old girl’s family — lifelong Uvalde residents — the only mental health center in the area — a few blocks from Robb Elementary — was rarely used or discussed, raising concerns about a lack of awareness about the signs and symptoms of mental illness. illness and the stigma surrounding help-seeking.

The mother of the 11-year-old girl whose heart attack led to her hospitalization says open discussions about mental health were previously taboo in the heavily Latino community, where culturally, mental health is discouraged as a feeling of laziness, boredom or anger.

“I remember growing up they were like, ‘Go there, you’re just a bitch,'” the mother said, using a Spanish word that means “you’re being naughty.”

Now, she said, the city is waking up to the reality of mental health, even as some people still question why survivors like her daughter need help.

Community members support each other by checking in with extended family and friends and taking advantage of established community resources, including counseling from the Red Cross and emotional support from churches. The parents of one of the children who were killed have started an organization that will create shelters in the desert for the families and survivors of the victims. Residents also have social media groups where they can share mental health resources and express their grief.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission contracted with agencies to set up a mental health hotline that in six weeks answered nearly 400 calls.

Martha Rodriguez, who coordinated efforts to help students recover from the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, said officials should visit the community to make sure the right resources are in place. She said addressing stigma and sending providers who understand families’ language and values ​​is key.

“Some families may not feel comfortable sharing their distress and needs,” she said.

Many families affected by the shooting are Roman Catholic. The mother of a girl who survived the attack said her daughter was only able to open a priest in Houston — 450 kilometers away — whom the family goes to see when visiting relatives.

“This is going to be a long journey. This is not going to be something that we can just do a little bit of work and fix,” said San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Schiller.

Julie Callow, director of the trauma and grief centers at Texas Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital New Orleans, said many students who survived the May 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting that killed 10 in suburban Houston had no symptoms. for six months.

“I predict we will see some similarities,” said Callow, who trains clinicians and others who treat families at Uvalde. “Part of the reason is that these symptoms have not yet manifested and will begin to manifest when OR the caregiver begins to recognize, ‘Wait a minute my child is still not eating, he is still not sleeping.’

The duration of treatment varies depending on the severity of the symptoms. For some, it can take up to two to three years.

Melissa Brymer, director of terrorism and disaster programs at the UCLA-Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, was the lead consultant to public schools in Newtown, Connecticut, after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. She said officials need to make sure that families can receive services at the school. They also need to create spaces that feel friendlier, like community meals, rather than clinics.

The parents of the incoming fifth-grader, who is struggling with symptoms, chose to home-school her this year so she could continue to go to appointments more easily. She also gets a service dog that will alert her if her heart rate increases.

But she worries about her siblings returning to the classroom and worries that others will judge her because of how she was affected by the massacre when she wasn’t shot, her mother said. Night terrors wake her up every day.

“We don’t sleep. … We don’t even know what this is anymore after this happened,” the mother said. “I’ll have to deal with it for as long as it takes to heal.”


More on the Uvalde, Texas school shooting: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *