What to do if you have PTSD after the Oxford shooting or another traumatic event

Oftentimes, when we think about post traumatic stress disorder, we think about veterans coming home from war. But PTSD can affect anyone who has gone through a traumatic event in their lives. 

My friend recently shared that he struggles with PTSD after his husband, at only 28 years old, suffered from cardiac arrest last year in the middle of the night. They were asleep in bed when he suddenly awoke to his husband gagging and moaning. He had sustained an anoxic brain injury and was hospitalized for the following three weeks.

Thankfully, after a long road, he has since recovered. But, now, sleep is difficult for my friend. He'll wake up in the middle of the night on high alert and cannot fall back asleep. And it makes sense. His person, the man he loves more than anyone else in the world, was nearly taken from him because of a traumatic event that happened in the middle of the night. 

PTSD doesn't just mean a fear of loud noises. It can manifest in many ways, like difficulty sleeping, as it does for my friend. Other symptoms include:

  • Experiencing recurrent flashbacks, hallucinations, and/or nightmares
  • Vivid feelings that it will happen again
  • Avoiding places and things that remind you of the event
  • Physical ailments such as headaches and stomach pains 
  • A feeling of detachment from others
  • Decreased interest in activities that used to be important to you
  • Difficultly concentrating
  • Irritability and jumpiness at being startled
  • Severe anxiety and mistrust 
  • Memory loss
  • Negative thoughts about yourself and the world
Last week, I saw hundreds of people who were experiencing PTSD. I attended the prayer vigil that honored the lives of the four students who died in the Oxford High School shooting. Tensions were high, of course, and, within the first 15 minutes, someone in the crowd fainted. People started screaming for help. But, in a crowd of thousands, we couldn't understand what they were saying. All we could hear were screams. And, as a result, the attendees started running. 

It was obvious that the residents of Oxford are not okay. And how can you expect to be okay after experiencing a tragedy like this one? To them, the screams probably felt like a repeat of the horror they faced only a few days before.

A high school isn't supposed to feel like a war zone. But, on Nov. 30, that's what it turned into. And, for these students, most live in the same community where this tragedy occurred. When they return to school, they will spend five days a week in the same building where they experienced the worst moment of their lives. They will have to walk down the same halls, and they will see the same friends who experienced the shooting alongside them. 

So, what can you do if you are experiencing PTSD? The first thing to remember is that everyone processes trauma in a different way. You could start experiencing PTSD immediately after the trauma —or it could take months or even years for symptoms to appear. Maybe it helps to attend events like last week's prayer vigil or to be surrounded by your community. Or maybe that makes things worse and you need to be alone. There is no right or wrong way to cope. You experienced something truly horrific, and you need to be gentle with yourself. 

PTSD is an illness, and, just like any other illness, you need treatment. "The road to recovery is long and winding. It is not something that happens overnight or all at once. ... It is normal to have an ongoing response to the trauma you have endured," said Dr. Mary Elizabeth Dean, an educator and contributor for BetterHelp.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services shared these resources for those impacted by the Oxford High School shooting or anyone else experiencing PTSD:

  • Reach out to a health care provider or call 2-1-1 for local resources that can meet your needs.
  • Call or text 844-44-MICAL (844-446-4225) 24/7 for free behavioral health crisis triage, support, resource information and referral to local services or chat through Michigan.gov/MiCAL.
  • If you or a loved one is considering suicide, call 800-273-8255 or visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.
  • To help your children manage distress after a shooting, visit Apa.org, and to learn about speaking to your children about violence, visit NaspOnline.org.

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