When the ambulances were sent away, a nurse on the scene knew it wasn't a good sign. At this point in time there are at least 26 people reported as dead, with 20 of them young children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School that cares for children in Kindergarten through the 4th grade in Newtown, CT.
Parents on the scene are understandably devastated by the turn of events that quickly turned into a massacre reminiscent of Virginia Tech and Columbine.
The crime is of epic proportion and the cause is currently under investigation, but the immediate need is for answers as to how this could happen and how can we pick up the pieces and go on after all that we know and love is gone. And, how do we explain this to all the other children in the country looking on with their own sense of apprehension and fear?
After such a horrific event it's typical for counseling to be offered to the survivors who are initially in shock and will carry the scars of the experience for the rest of their lives. Counseling begins with the immediate need to help people feel safe. In the coming weeks, children and parents near and far will try to process what they have seen and are feeling. Counselors typically try to assess the level of distress a child is in and group the children based on their proximity to the violence and corresponding trauma.
For those outside the area, the anxiety they are feeling is very real and should not be discounted. Our first thoughts go to those we know and love and our hope is always for their safety and security.
Parents, first responders and onlookers have trauma as well and everyone is encouraged to share what they are feeling and deal with the tragedy in an open and caring way. While many parents and their children will feel uneasy about going back to school, the counselors will work to make sure the children have a support system of friends and family in place to help them feel safe.
Experts suggest that we limit the exposure our children have to the news of the event, as the continuing focus on the drama can increase their anxiety level. It's recommended that parents take a moment to bring their family together and share a moment of silence or prayer for those who are at the center of the tragedy. It's important to try and maintain a normal schedule, including getting proper nutrition and sleep, keeping in mind it's going to take time for each of us to work through our feelings of grief.
Some of the children directed affected by the tragedy will suffer stress symptoms for years, including depression, acute stress disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome like soldiers experience in war conditions.
Parents and counselors are encouraged to look for symptoms that range from outwardly trying to avoid the situation, to difficulty concentrating, irritability and having nightmares.
Each person's experience is different as is the time it will take to heal. Many people will begin to feel a sense of normalcy after weeks, while others will take several months. Mental health counseling is advised for anyone experiencing symptoms for a month or longer.
While questions will remain about what would trigger such an act of violence, the immediate goal for health care professionals is to get the parents, children and their families feeling safe and talking about what they need to express in order to return to a sense of normalcy.