Oxford High School shooting highlights the deep need for mental health services

On Tuesday, Nov. 30, the city where I grew up and the city where my parents still live experienced a tragedy that no community should ever have to experience. 

Four students were killed, and seven people were injured in a shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan around 12:51 p.m. The suspect in the shooting is Ethan Crumbley, a 15-year-old sophomore at the school. The students killed have been identified as Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16;  and Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Justin Shilling, 17, died from his injuries around 10:45 a.m. Wednesday.

I'm devastated about this senseless act of violence that killed these young people who had so much life left to live. Absolutely sick to my stomach that we live in a world where kids do this to other kids, and where parents have to fear for their children's safety every day, just when dropping them off to school each morning. 

It's common for those affected directly or indirectly by a mass shooting like this one to experience increased anxiety, depression, PTSD symptoms, anger, nightmares, difficultly sleeping, as well as a decline in academic performance, ability to trust, and feelings of security and control, according to PsyCom

In a press conference Tuesday night, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said, "If you're feeling trauma or any kind of depression or anxiety, that's nothing to be ashamed of. ... We encourage people not to be afraid of seeking help. (Parents) — talk to your kids about what they're feeling. Get them the help they need, and let them know it is normal to feel this way."

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin added, "This just highlights the deep need for mental health services that we have in our schools and across the country."

I'm not an expert, so I asked someone who is to share her thoughts about this devastating event and what she would tell any child or parent who may be struggling with their mental health as a result.

Here's what Karen Nugent Smigelski, owner of WillowsEdge Counseling, located only a few blocks away from Oxford High School, shared:

"I was at my Oxford office, hearing a lot of sirens going past and watching the ambulances and police cars going towards the high school — while at the same time texting the mother of one of my clients about her daughter's appointment, when the mother alerted me to what was happening. 

My initial reaction was shock. Then I let all my therapists know what was happening so they could be prepared for their clients.

I started my career teaching in Oxford Schools in 1995-1999 at the Oxford Middle School as an art teacher and moved here in 2005 so my kids could go to Oxford Schools and grow up in this community that I loved teaching in. 

The fact that this happened in the community I love, tells me that it can happen anywhere. More needs to be done to help everyone experience what it feels like to be heard, understood, and loved.  

A tragedy like this will cause a ripple effect in people's mental health for many years for all the parents and kids of Oxford as well across the state that can cause life long issues if not addressed. Each time something like this happens, it shines a light on things that are brewing under the surface that need to be addressed and also reinforces the need for empathy for everyone and unity. 

If we just 'go back to normal' after this and change nothing, we will miss the opportunity to make a positive change and prevent this tragedy from happening in another community, to another family, to another child. Resilience is needed to counteract the negative effects of events like this. Resilience comes from getting support in any way that works for you.

What I recommend for parents to do to help their children is: talk to them and listen without judgement. Let them talk uninterrupted, hear what they are saying and reflect it back without giving a solution or trying to fix it. 

Encourage them to get unbiased outside support to help them deal with any emotions that may come up that they are struggling with. Let them know that there is strength in being vulnerable. It takes courage to ask for help and is nothing to be ashamed of. Let them know your vulnerabilities as an example. 

This is the same advice that I would give parents for helping themselves. There are many qualified licensed counselors in our area that could help. Look into your insurance and look online for someone that seems like a good fit for you."

WillowsEdge is located at 2B S. Washington St. Oxford. To make an appointment, email or text them at 248-834-0614 or email Admin@WillowsEdge.net. For others who live in and around Oakland County who are in need of free and confidential counseling, information, and referrals, call Common Ground's 24/7 crisis line at 1-800-231-1127. For more information, visit https://commongroundhelps.org.

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