The night before Valentine’s day (Feb 13th) 2023, a random act of violence struck Michigan State University’s (MSU) campus: An unknown mass shooter walked into Berkey Hall and the MSU Union building and slaughtered three innocent students, and left at least five others with life-threatening injuries (one is paralyzed from the neck down). The shooter then fled the scene and shot himself when police approached him–he died of suicide.
The tragic events have left the survivors, families, teachers, and other community members terrified, grief-stricken and angry. “Since that night, many of us have cried daily, and sometimes inconsolably. We’ve had nightmares. Since that terrible night, we’ve thought of little else. Despite our community’s best efforts, I do not feel as though the healing process has begun. I can say with certainty that many of my students feel the same. Many faculty and students are not OK,” wrote Dr. Christina Wyman in the USA Today. Dr. Wyman is an instructor at MSU whose classroom is in the Berkey building, where the shooting took place.
Within hours of the shooting, Wood TV contacted trauma-informed clinical therapist and Clinical Director of Health For Life Counseling in Grand Rapids, Paul Krauss MA LPC, seeking guidance and resources in the fallout for publication on their network.
The publication was compiled by Rachel Van Gilder and Meghan Bunchman, and focused on the emotional sequelae of gun violence, and strategies for supporting those impacted.
Examples of recommendations offered by Mr. Krauss included:
- The importance of not isolating, but rather connecting with the community through support groups, on-campus vigils, friends, family, and trusted mentors.
- Students and others impacted were also encouraged to seek therapy if they had difficulty managing symptoms or were suffering from trauma-like symptoms which don’t decrease after a week or two.
What do I do if this shooting at Michigan State University has affected my emotional well-being?
In the wake of the shooting at MSU, if you are struggling to sleep, eat, or perform daily tasks—you may be suffering from symptoms related to the trauma of being near or learning about the mass shooting and murder of students.
It is normal to experience grief, fear, rage and all sorts of other emotions following a tragedy. Mass shootings are devastating for those directly affected, and research has also explored how traumatic events can also lead to vicarious traumatization. Vicarious traumatization is “the emotional residue of exposure to traumatic stories and experiences of others.”
Whether you were a student or a staff member at MSU, or you live across the world and are grieving from afar, it is normal for your emotional and mental well-being to be affected. Mr. Krauss offers four key recommendations:
- Do not isolate.
Humans are social animals and we fare much better (on average) in the company of others who have our best interests at heart. Isolation on the hand can cause any sort of symptom you are experiencing to get much worse—such as flashbacks, anxiety, negative thought ruminations, etc.
- Make an appointment with a local counselor in your area.
Not all counselors understand the impact of trauma on the brain. Make sure that you contact someone familiar with the trauma-informed literature. For more on that, read about how trauma can affect a person here.
- If you do not have resources, call the crisis line 988–and ask about free services.
988 is a crisis line that is equipped to deal with those in an emotional crisis and people contemplating suicide. 988 is also an excellent way to get help and find free resources for help with your mental health if you cannot find any.
- If possible, join a support group in person or online.
There are many ongoing support groups online. It may take time to find the right one for you, but keep searching and ask on Internet forums for advice. If you have support groups in your area, that may also be a good option for you. You can search items like “Grief support group in _____ county or mental health support group…”
- Consider EMDR Therapy. Your insurance likely covers EMDR.
EMDR therapy can be especially effective for those with acute shock, anxiety, or PTSD symptoms etc. EMDR therapy is a specialized therapy that was developed for trauma symptoms. It is done in conjunction with talk therapy. Learn more about how it can help people’s feelings and thoughts of distress reduce in some cases, within 12 sessions. Additional information may be found at: EMDR.com
If you or someone you know needs therapy from a trauma-informed therapist, learn more about that here.
How can I help those affected by the shooting at Michigan State University?
It is more important than ever to come together as a community, but it can be challenging to know what to say, or do when someone is struggling. In her article: What do I do to help my anxious loved ones, Dr. Nicole Cain emphasizes the importance of getting educated about anxiety, trauma, or whatever it is that the person you are trying to help is dealing with.
Here are four steps to get you started in learning how you can help those affected by the shooting at MSU:
- Trauma 101. First things first. We have to understand what trauma is and how it can affect each person differently. You can read a bit more about this at the Health For Life Counseling blog.
- Get connected. If you know anyone who attends or works at Michigan State University right now–reach out to them and let them know that you are available to offer support.
- Contact the Counseling Center at MSU and ask how you can help.
- Get involved. Identify meaningful ways to get involved in long-term change related to preventing mass shootings and violence tragedies in the future. Ideas to get you started:
- Write your elected officials
- Attend town hall meetings
- Get involved in causes that you feel pulled toward: such as gun control, expanding mental health access, promoting mental health services,
Donate to hotlines that seek to reach potential offenders.