How to cope with trauma of Westside High shooting hoax

Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 2:38 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2022 at 4:34 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - The psychological damage can linger even though class is back in session at Westside High School after a hoax report of a school shooter.

The prank that was part of a statewide hoax at many schools brought law enforcement and scared parents to the school. The same thing happened a few weeks ago in South Carolina and something similar was happening Thursday in North Carolina.

We spoke to some parents who were scared, and some told us they didn’t feel comfortable returning to class Thursday.

Immediately after the situation was clear Wednesday at Westside, the Richmond County School System said counselors would be available for students who needed help.

Moving forward, there could be a lot on people’s minds about what occurred.

Dr. Candace Best at Augusta University says it’s OK to take time to grieve on what students had to go through.

“Allow the space for grieving, you know, grieving what we thought was safe, realizing that we all are at risk,” said Best, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior. “And also to remind ourselves, that when it counted – when it mattered – our community pulled it together and protected our people. We protected our community, we protected our children,” she said.

“Our children are safe. It really provides motivation for us to continue to look for short shortcomings in our system to tighten those up to make sure that a hoax doesn’t turn into a tragedy,” she said.

Hoaxes like Wednesday’s are something mental health expert and licensed social worker Phylicia Anderson says should be taken just as seriously as if they were real.

“Individually and as a community, don’t dismiss the impacts of what this event has caused to so many,” said Anderson.

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And experts say, first responders, and school resource officers, who tend to be the closest at the moment, need to have a similar approach

“Law enforcement agencies have to respond to that as if it’s happening,” Anderson said.

Anderson says parents, students, and school employees will need support.

“You get a message that there’s a potential shooter in the school where your child is, and it’s, it’s a moment of just shock and terror,” she said.

A moment many parents found out about on social media, moving forward, Best says it’s OK for parents to open up to their children.

“I was feeling scared. I was terrified. I thought something might have happened to you. I thought maybe I could lose you. That is one of the most understated places that we can make an impact on our children is for them to know that it’s okay to be scared,” she said.

The executive director of the American School Counselor Association, Jill Cook, says children will know if parents are impacted.

“They are not immune to seeing how something like that may have impacted their parents,” she said.

Saying for students to move forward, they have to redevelop their normal days.

“The structure of routine is a great way to help school feel like a safe place to be,” said Cook.

She says students who are worried need comfort for the future.

“Be reassured that school is a safe place and that the world is a safe place, but there’s sometimes things that happen that are bad,” said Cook.

Best says students can have delayed reactions to these types of situations, it’s not common, but if there are symptoms of delayed trauma, it’s important for parents to address it and get the appropriate help.

With all the videos and social media posts that have been going around all day, she says adults should make sure students aren’t overwhelming themselves.

It’s OK to take a break – including a break from social media.

“Please give yourself grace and others around you if they are experiencing some of these troubling emotions,” Anderson said.

For students who need help but don’t want to say it, she says to tell them to identify someone they trust.