How Tragic Events Impact Mental Health

Aug 17, 2022

Many people are experiencing mental health challenges as the result of the tragic shooting in Buffalo on May 14, other national tragedies, and continued repercussions from the COVID pandemic.

Mental Health America reports that over half of adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment, totaling over 27 million adults in the U.S. The percentage of adults with a mental illness who report unmet need for treatment has increased every year since 2011.

According to Laura Kelemen LCSW-R, director, Niagara County Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services, some people are finding it challenging to get back to a typical routine and find themselves not motivated to get day to day tasks like cooking, cleaning and shopping accomplished.

“The mental and emotional weight of worrying about safety especially when engaging in routine activities such as running errands takes a toll that people often don’t recognize,” she said. “Relaxation and rest can be difficult to find as individuals and communities are experiencing the sensation of ‘when is the next shoe going to drop?’”

Stigma continues to be a barrier for people seeking treatment. Often the biggest challenges people with mental illnesses face aren’t their illnesses at all. The stigma—or negative feelings, attitudes, and stereotypes—that surround mental health can make getting help scary and leading a fulfilling life difficult. Stigma prevents people from seeking help, restricts resources from being allocated, and it discourages others from lending their support.

The mission of the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition is to educate people about mental illness. Separating the truth from the stigma can help increase awareness, understanding, and acceptance for those living with mental health challenges.

The Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition will host a Facebook Live on August 24 from noon to 1 p.m. titled State of Stigma: Current State of our World – How Tragic Events Impact our Mental Health.

The discussion will focus on why individuals experience anxiety, depression, and/or vicarious trauma as well as offer information about resources in the community. This back-to-basics discussion will include information about how to seek help and why it’s okay to reach out when feeling helpless and hopeless.

Panelists are Melinda DuBois, executive director. Mental Health Advocates of WNY and chair of the Anti-Stigma Coalition; Laura Kelemen, and Rachel Morrison, director of 24-Hour Crisis Counseling Program, Crisis Services. Frank Cammarata, director, Erie County office for People with Disabilities will moderate the event.

The event is free and open to the public; participants will be invited to ask questions of the panelists.

“We know that there is something called vicarious trauma,” explains MHA executive director Melinda DuBois, “so even if you are not a person that’s been directly impacted by a traumatic event you can still experience trauma just by watching things happening on the news or hearing interviews about an event. It may be too much, too stressful for some. For a society that is already struggling with high rates of depression and anxiety, all of what’s happening right now in our community and the world can be really triggering. I can’t stress enough how important it is, if you are struggling, to reach out for help.”

The mental health reactions that people are experiencing related to recent tragic events in our community and in the world seem to be more complex as they are “layered” on top of the extended stress and life disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Kelemen, frequent reactions include an increase in anxiety, restlessness, sadness, and anger. Typical trauma reactions include difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and sleeping. Because we have been living at elevated stress due to the pandemic, reactions seem to be more pronounced. Some people have expressed a feeling of numbness, shutting down or further disconnecting in reaction to being overwhelmed. Physical reactions, including headaches and stomach aches are also quite common.

Wellness includes emotional and physical health. Prevention and early treatment are the most effective form of care for all health-related ailments.

Because of stigma people delay seeking help, often denying or not recognizing the need for help, and are much more distressed when they finally do seek care.

“We have internalized stigma. For example, it is not uncommon for people to minimize their own circumstances, stating others have it worse than I do. Seeking help is so important.” Kelemen said. “A friend of mine described their recent “emotional rollercoaster” ranging from being sad/crying to being much more short-tempered and intolerant of minor frustrations and day-to-day inconveniences. It helped them to recognize the connection between these emotions and recent events – recognizing that the reaction is an expected response to such extraordinary circumstances.”

“Prevention and early treatment are the most effective forms of care for all health-related ailments. Because of stigma—people delay seeking help, often denying or not recognizing the need for help, and are much more distressed when they finally do seek care.”

Laura J. Keleman

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