May 23, 2023 - World

Mental health help on standby for Uvalde a year after shooting

Photo illustration of Uvalde victims in mourning set against a background collage of torn paper and various shapes

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

More Uvalde families are in need of mental health support as the trauma of the school shooting intensifies for some people one year after the tragedy.

What's happening: About 2,000 Uvalde residents have sought mental health support from the Ecumenical Center since the shooting, and the organization saw increase of about 20% in the number of people reaching out as the one-year mark approached, CEO Mary Beth Fisk tells Axios.

  • Ecumenical Center and Family Service, two San Antonio-based nonprofits providing services, are trying to ensure on-demand help for residents tomorrow by pulling in additional counselors or having staff on standby.
  • Alejandra Castro, rural services director for Family Service, tells Axios the provider's Uvalde office has also seen an uptick in visitors in recent weeks.
  • In addition to experiencing anxiety and trauma, many community members are dealing with financial stress as parents have missed work to help their children through their concerns, Castro says.
  • The Ecumenical Center started offering a range of therapies including play therapy, art therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing last June.

The big picture: Jessica Gomez, executive director of the Momentous Institute and a licensed psychologist based in Dallas, says mental health providers everywhere are increasingly encountering people struggling with trauma and chronic stress from violence in their communities. How they're treated — which is a challenge in view of the shortage of mental health professionals — varies by person, Gomez adds.

  • "Some people, it might be talk therapy, but for others it might be music therapy, art therapy, movement, and so we have to adapt to how the person processes trauma, because we know that trauma is trapped in the body, it needs to find a way out."
  • Trauma from a mass shooting can be exacerbated around the date of the incident, she adds.
  • "What you'll see is the person leading up to the date can start to almost become a little bit more irritable or a little bit more numb. It just depends where they are on the spectrum of symptoms."
  • "My deep worry right now — and what I'm hearing just from the school and the mental health programs that we do at Momentous Institute — is the chronic stress that people are experiencing. Just when we think we recover from one thing, there's another one."

While the one-year mark in Uvalde is a significant milestone, the groups have had a presence there since the day of the shooting

  • Uvalde is an hour from the Mexican border. About 80% of the 15,000 residents are Latino.

Of note: The Ecumenical Center also supported the Sutherland Springs and El Paso communities following the shootings in those cities in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

  • Fisk says many people aren't immediately ready to start counseling.
  • "We want to remind everyone that everybody's got an individual grief journey and they're going to be ready to visit with a counselor at a different time. It may not be the first year, it may be the third year," she says.

Zoom out: Mental health professionals outside of Uvalde are also preparing, especially in San Antonio where residents share personal ties to the town.

  • UT Health San Antonio psychiatrist Dr. Giancaro Ferruzzi says parents should evaluate what their children know before sharing information that may not be age-appropriate and remaining open for questions.

Axios' Astrid Galván contributed to this report.

Go deeper: Listen to the Axios Today podcast, where Emily Peck, filling in for host Niala Boodhoo, and Madalyn Mendoza discuss the mental health support for the people of Uvalde.

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