PARKERSBURG - As a moment of silence was observed and bells rang out Friday morning to remember the victims of the shooting in Connecticut, local mental health experts want families to know there is help and there is hope.
Derek Snyder, director of Children and Family Services; Kimberly Dixon, Crisis director and clinical social worker, and Cindy Inman, director of psychological services at Westbrook Health Services, offered suggestions for talking to children about recent events and tips on what to look for that might signal problems like post-traumatic stress syndrome.
On talking to parents, Snyder said a good practice is age-appropriate honesty.
"Just let your kids know you are there if they have any questions or need to talk or share any concerns. It is very important that they know they have an avenue to talk and open up about their feelings. Reassure them that the teachers and principals are there to keep them safe and the schools have plans to help provide safety," Snyder said.
Resources available for families in the community include individual, group and family therapy; outpatient therapy; intensive outpatient program; case management; treatment planning; psychological/psychiatric care; drug screening; 24-hour crisis intervention, school-based mental health program and counseling.
"If children are withdrawn, you notice any increase in anger, or there are problems at school such as truancy, grades falling or getting in trouble, these are the obvious warning signs that something could be going on with your child. I think that's very important that parents also need to be aware of what kids are using in terms of social networking," Snyder said. "Parents need to know there is help if they have concerns about their children. There are people who can answer questions and help guide their children in the right direction. It is important if you have any concerns early intervention is key before the problem is intensified."
The crisis line phone number is 304-485-1725 or toll free in West Virginia 1-800-579-5844.
The Crisis Department at Westbrook is available to individuals facing mental health and/or substance abuse crises 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The crisis line number is 304-485-1725 or toll free in West Virginia 1-800-579-5844. They also perform assessments, assist with placement in treatment centers and coordinate follow up services after a residential treatment or hospital visit.
"The most important thing the crisis team does is hear people," said Dixon. "People often feel they are not being heard. They can always call and ask questions. It's always worth calling to see if there is something we can help with," Dixon said.
"The most important thing that parents can do in light of the recent school shooting in Connecticut is not panic. Our schools have some really good safety procedures in place and are working to make them safer. I think that people need to know that if you are having problems you can contact a mental health professional. Westbrook Health Services also has a 24-hour Crisis Line and several online screening tools to assist people in the community. There is hope because even the state of West Virginia is examining policies that will provide a little more control. The state has increased funding for school-based health centers and additional mental health services," Inman said. "We need more awareness to have a better chance of reducing this degree of violence. This is really a community issue. If people aren't feeling connected it can lead to problems. We as a community have to pull together to help these families."
Contributing factors to extreme mental health crises include not feeling connected, mental illness, loneliness, anger, resentfulness, and thinking unhealthy thoughts, according to mental health officials.
Post traumatic stress disorder is also a concern after events such as the Connecticut school shooting. According to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms include: efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the trauma; efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma; inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma; markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities; feeling of detachment or estrangement from others; restricted range of affect; sense of a foreshortened future; persistent symptoms of increased arousal including possible difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, hyper vigilance, exaggerated startle response.