Earlier this week there was an incident at Prince of Subs restaurant, located on South Prince Street near the Save-A-Lot grocery store, Carter & MacRae Elementary School, and the Water Street Mission. This may not have affected the whole Lancaster City community, but to those who frequent this establishment and its surrounding areas, this has created a sense of heightened anxiety.
“Gun violence in the United States is a very pervasive issue and one that we have been hearing about with disturbing frequency. Activities that are seemingly normal have all become targets for places of gun violence…For young people and adults alike, this threat can contribute to extreme emotions including fear, anxiety, anger and sadness.” from a blog post earlier this year.
The injured security guard Christopher Johnson is the founder of CJ’s Hoops for Hope, a free basketball league for kids in Lancaster City. He created the league for inner city youth after his son was murdered from gun violence.
“I’m just disgusted with the streets and the guns, and just the lack of respect for human life. This whole thing is a mess,” Johnson told LNP.
Our programs manager Shanece Bowman shared her insight, experience and expertise on the matter of gun violence as a mental health professional and Lancaster County resident.
How Does Gun Violence Affect the Community?
Gun violence can have a damaging impact on a community. As a student who attended Carter and MacRae Elementary School, I was once a child who walked the streets back and forth to school, to community centers, to after-school programs, and to the corner stores.
I always felt safe knowing that even if I was not walking with an adult, the neighbors always kept a close eye on each other in the community. When gun violence happens, it takes away the sense of safety that community members have. Times have changed since my childhood, and gun violence is at an all-time high, it is important to be aware of your surroundings, walk with an adult, friend, or peer, and have an awareness of your gut feelings. If you feel unsafe, talk to an adult, or go to a safe place in the neighborhood.
How Does Gun Violence Affect Mental Health?
The impact of gun violence can cause a variety of mental health concerns, and one could be secondary traumatic stress. Secondary traumatic stress is defined as “the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another.” When gun violence is discussed, it can trigger an emotional reaction that could lead to a traumatic stress reaction. A person who was not involved in the incident can be emotionally disturbed but witnessing the crime scenes and being exposed to the fall out of the incident.
It is important to pay attention to changes in behavior. Some examples of symptoms of secondary traumatic stress are fatigue or illness, cynicism, irritability, reduced productivity, feelings of hopelessness, anger, despair, sadness, feelings of re-experiencing of the event, nightmares, anxiety, avoidance of people or activities, or persistent anger and sadness.
What Can Be Done to Support the People Around You?
Keeping a close eye on the changes someone is displaying is super important to help recognize that what has taken place is affecting them. Offering a listening ear to those who trust you and remembering that what has taken place is not for you to justify, not having the answers is ok, often being available to listen is the all the support someone needs.
An unexpected change in a child’s routine schedule and environment can lead to a lot of questions. Seeing the aftermath of gun violence can be frightening, so it is important when speaking with children to be mindful of the language you are using and adjust your answers to their understanding. Ask children what they have heard. Then ask them what questions they have. Focus on just answering the questions they ask, directly, without offering more details. When speaking with an older child, you can provide more details if they want them. When speaking with younger children, it might be more appropriate to keep the language simple but remember that transparency is key to establishing a trusting relationship.
If you’d like to learn how to talk to young people about gun violence, please read our previous blog post written by Amanda Katchur, Psy.D. licensed Psychologist and Touchstone Foundation Board Member.
What are Some Resources That Are Available in Lancaster County?
During this challenging time, it is important to provide resources and support to those who are struggling emotionally because of a traumatic experience.
- Being supportive requires little training and can be as simple as actively listening to those who seek comfort.
- Active listening is a skill that you can develop over time, but it is as simple as it sounds. Listening with all your senses and giving the individual your full attention both verbal and nonverbal. Some tips to active listening are smiling (when appropriate), maintaining eye contact, eliminating distractions.
Some additional active listening tips are focusing on the intent and purpose of the conversation, paying attention to body language, giving encouraging verbal cues, asking questions, clarifying, paraphrasing information being told to you, refraining from judgment, summarizing, and reflecting.
Call the 988 Lifeline: If you or someone you know needs help for a mental health concern, call the 988 Lifeline, available 24/7: https://988lifeline.org/talk-to-someone-now/
Trauma Informed Training: https://letstalklancaster.org/trauma-informed-community/
Crisis Intervention: https://www.lancastercountybhds.org/148/Crisis-Intervention