It is important  to seek help when events like the Garlic Festival shooting occur

By Larry McElvain

Image result for Larry McElvainTraumatic and violent events like what happened at the Gilroy Garlic Festival can devastate the mental health of a whole community.

Of course, those who were present at the event will experience a heightened level of trauma. If trauma goes untreated it can last for years and evolve into depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or re-traumatization. Re-traumatization is a conscious or unconscious reminder of past trauma that results in re-experiencing the initial trauma. It is important for anyone who has experienced trauma to address it, because actions, triggers, and flashbacks may cause re-traumatization. For example, many of us has experienced trauma in the past.  These events of violence can become a trigger point for those who were in abusive relationships.

Trauma leaves imprints on the brain — such as a sight, sound, touch, smell, or taste — which can trigger flashbacks. Flashback experiences may be brief and typically last only a few seconds, but the emotional after-effects may last for hours or longer. Many individuals will become depressed and not completely understand why; or begin to have panic attacks or anxiety attacks without connecting the trauma event to their anxiety.

Events like this can affect individuals at the event, and even more of the community who wasn’t even there. One of our therapists on-staff, who grew up in Gilroy, said she is “experiencing depression. The feeling is that something about (her) memories were violated. It feels as if all aspects of (her) life are now less secure and more vulnerable to violence.”

It is important for us as a community to seek help when events like this occur and to continue to develop the community bond that Morgan Hill and Gilroy have with each other.

You might be asking: is there anything a person can do to prepare for such an event?

While a person may not have control over the perpetrator in events like this, they do have control over the way they prepare and react in these situations. It’s important to not stir up fear, but to build up confidence that you and your family are prepared.

Be informed and aware

  • Before an event ask your family to sit down and talk about the day, the event, and what to expect.

In addition to all the fun expectations, you will want to remind them the event is less safe than at home, so everyone needs to be extra aware of their surroundings and who is around them. It’s important to not stir up fear, but to build up their confidence that they are prepared.

  • If you see something, say something. Watch for others who might look suspicious or create an uncomfortable feeling. Tell kids to tell you or another adult what they see. Adults should assess the situation to see if higher authorities should be made aware of the person.

Make a plan

  • When arriving at the event select a meeting place in case you get divided. This is a good rule of thumb in any family outing.
  • Make sure your family is prepared and aware of safe places to run and safe places to hide, just in case.

What might be warning signs if someone might be planning a mass shooting attack and what should people do?

There is no specific checklist or algorithm to identify a mass shooter before an event as there are several factors that can attribute to this violent behavior.

Instead, there is a combination of the individual’s behaviors and interactions with bystanders in the weeks or months leading up to an event that could help identify potential shooters in the future.

Here is a list of common characteristics and behaviors of shooters at the time of the event:

  • More than 90 percent of shooters are men
  • Nearly 80 percent are single, divorced, or separated
  • More than 60 percent of shooters have issues with mental health (e.g. depression, anxiety), this can manifest as someone who stays alone, acts suspiciously, reacts with irrational fear, or behaves in violent or aggressive ways

The people most likely to notice these characteristics of concerning behavior are the people who know the potential shooter best. This can either be family, friends, coworkers, or classmates.

Often, these individuals do not mention the concerning behavior to anyone who could potentially help, or to anyone at all. So in order to be proactive, share your concerns with other appropriate family or friends. If the concern is common with several in a group or several family members, consider notifying the authorities.

Stay safe!

Larry McElvain is a Marriage and Family Therapist with Discovery Counseling Center. The center has therapists available at their Morgan Hill and Gilroy offices to help the community process this event. Discovery offices are located at 16275 Monterey Road, Suite C in Morgan Hill and 8351 Church St., Suite E in Gilroy. No appointment is needed, just walk in and we will get a therapist to meet with you in a timely manner, if possible.

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