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Demand for mental health services could grow following Pittsburgh synagogue massacre

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - 11/6/2018

Nov. 06--There's no exact science to grieving over the Tree of Life Congregation mass shooting, but mental health experts say it's important for Western Pennsylvania residents touched by the massacre to seek help if they're feeling despondent.

"There's no phrase to describe exactly what many people are feeling," said Dr. Jack Rozel , medical director of UPMC's resolve Crisis Services. "An event like what happened at Tree of Life will take a lifetime for some people to process or understand. People are grieving and processing their feelings in their own way."

Some people who were directly impacted by the event will quickly adjust and return to a normal life routine, Rozel said. Others will require much more therapy and help.

Dr. Gary Swanson, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Allegheny General Hospital, said it's important for people to deal with the initial grief through normal coping strategies, like leaning on family, friends or loved ones.

"I don't recommend professional therapy for the first few weeks" he said. "We would become more concerned for people who are struggling a month to three months out."

Symptoms could include: trouble sleeping, irritability, lack of appetite and trouble concentrating.

"When we start seeing those problems as we get further from this incident, we might say, 'Hey, maybe you need to talk to a professional,' " he said.

Swanson said children under 10 generally don't have a complete grasp of death and its finality.

Still, some may have questions.

"Typically, if a kid asks a question, try and answer it," he said. "Don't give too much information. Answer the question and ask them if they have more questions."

Kimberly Blair, associate professor of psychiatry at University of Pittsburgh, said young children may have misperceptions about a national tragedy like the synagogue massacre.

"I think that a lot of what we have to do with kids is make sure we know what they are seeing and what they are hearing," she said. "Before you start talking with them, get a sense of what they already know. Try and correct any information they may have that's not accurate. Explain what is going on to them in a way that is honest but at their developmental level for their age."

Blair has an 11-year-old son, who asked her whether he is still safe at school.

"When something like this happens, kids want to know if they are safe," she said. "There's a lot of basic reassurance that goes on with kids. If you don't talk about it, that could make it more scary."

Even those not directly impacted by the shooting may struggle.

"This event was obviously very upsetting and, for some, it could psychologically reactivate something unrelated they've already been through," Rozel said. "People process these types of things in stages. It also doesn't have to be mental health -- one could be tired or stressed out."

A collaborative between UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital and the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, reolve's services are free to all county residents. It's open 24 hours a day.

Rozel heads a team of 150 trained crisis experts who quickly respond to crisis situations.

"We can meet someone anywhere, at their home, at a coffee shop, wherever they feel comfortable," he said. "Usually a two-person team will respond, sit and talk with someone and figure out how we can help. Phone services are also available."

Rozel expects an uptick in calls in the months to come.

Many people connected to the shooting are most likely hearing from friends and loved ones from across the country and world. Soon, that support will begin to fade.

"People should feel comfortable calling any time for any reason," he said.

The number for the hotline is 1-888-796-8226.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Ben at 412-320-7991, or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.


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