It's been exactly a year today since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and anniversaries can be particularly hard on survivors of trauma.
To learn about how this is affecting the mental health of the MSD community, WLRN spoke with Luna Medina-Wolf, a mental health counselor and incoming president of Professionals United For Parkland. PU4P got started a year ago and now includes a network of more than 300 licensed mental health workers who provide pro-bono trauma therapy. The group has also offered a series of trauma workshops to make sure therapists are prepared to care for survivors.
You can listen to the conversation and read a lightly edited excerpt of the conversation below:
WLRN: It's been a year since the shooting. What does this mean for the survivors?
Medina-Wolf: It means that a lot of the symptoms that they experienced after the shooting itself are resurfacing. A lot of people who didn't go to therapy all of a sudden realize that, 'oh my god, I am feeling something,' when they felt like they were numb—because that's part of trauma symptoms as well.
Even people who went through therapeutic services and felt they're in a good place may re-experience a lot of the symptoms. And that's very normal to feel that way.
Clinically speaking, who is a survivor?
Anybody who feels symptoms related to this can be a survivor of this. Of course, the people in the building are the most affected—people in the community of Parkland, teenagers, parents, teachers.
My daughter goes to school in Parkland and I live in Coconut Creek, which is adjacent to Parkland. Just as a parent, as a person, I've experienced some trauma myself that I had to process.
I've spoken to kids from Fort Lauderdale who were supposed to be at the competition for the band that was supposed to happen a day after; they were highly traumatized after this happened.
For people who are a part of this community who might be family or friends, what helps? What can you do to help right now?
The best thing people can do to help is just ask, "how can I help?" instead of tippy toeing around it.
That's something that survivors talk about a lot: they can hear the people are uncomfortable. Versus just coming to them and saying, "hey, is there anything I can do to help?" That makes them feel way better from what I've heard, from the people I've been working with.
What are some of the things that, even though they might be well-intentioned, might do more harm than good?
What hurts—from research and some things that I've seen with my clients as well—is doing events in the name of somebody who died, or in the name of the school, without verifying with the school or with the family of the person who died. That has been really damaging to people because they feel like, 'you forgot about my child and what they would have wanted.'
How has this event changed the landscape for mental health providers in this area?
More people are trained to treat trauma, for sure. Especially the past, I would say, six months, there has been intense work.
So I'm hoping now that we have more people, there's going to be even more available resources. But then we run into the issue of people being able to pay for this.
If you do have insurance that covers this, what does it cost?
Depending on your plan, it can go anywhere from no copay at all to $50, $60 copay. Or if you have a deductible, you have to pay for a certain amount of time until you meet your deductible.
If you don't have insurance, what does it cost?
Providers in the area charge about, between $125 to $225 per hour. Some people offer a sliding scale. Some others don't. The people from PU4P, they would normally at least offer the five sessions for free.
I would encourage everybody who feels that in some degree this affected them to talk to somebody. See for sure that they're really not experiencing symptoms of their trauma. It's much harder to treat trauma once a year passes, and the more years pass it's harder to treat it.
It sounds like the expression, "time heals all wounds," is incorrect here?
Kind of, yeah. Even if you're resilient and you feel like I've got this… the fact that you are resilient and you're able to cope with what happened does not mean that your brain didn't store information subconsciously in a way that one day it's going to catch up to you.
But what's good is that there's treatment out there that will be able to take care of it.
What do you want people in the community to know?
Even if it's difficult to get a provider, everything I mentioned here does not mean that we can't find a provider.
People need to find somebody to talk to, especially around the anniversary. If they're feeling like, am I going crazy? It means that they need to go and talk to somebody. Just know that they're not alone. And we're here to help.