After the Uvalde shooting, one Dallas doctor sees an ongoing mental health need
In the days after the Uvalde shooting, state agencies and health care providers went to the community to offer support. One of those people was psychiatrist Sabrina Browne with UT Southwestern Medical Center. She spoke about community healing from traumatic events.
In the weeks after the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, mental health professionals from across the state came to offer community support. One of them was UT Southwestern Medical Center psychiatrist Sabrina Browne.
Browne’s practice focuses on child and adolescent psychology, and so when news broke of the tragedy – during which a shooter killed 19 children and two adults – she was among those looking to help.
“When these tragedies happen, and you hear about them, it can make you feel so powerless,” she said. “You want to help, and you don’t know how, and so this was an opportunity to help, even in the smallest amount.”
She and others were stationed at a resource center the state had set up for the community. It was towards the end of intense media coverage, where many folks had packed up and left.
Parents brought their kids in to talk, but the parents found support, too.
“A lot of them hadn’t had the opportunity to really process, because they were keeping it together for the family, for the children,” she said.
Browne is back in Dallas now. But her experience with the people of Uvalde showed her that, for many, the work was just beginning.
Signs and symptoms of grief in kids and adults
When a traumatic event happens, like a natural disaster or gun violence, it can affect people personally and on a community level. “There’s no right or wrong way to grieve,” Browne said, but there are some commonalities.
Adults often experience an initial sense of numbness that can then lead to sadness, anxiety and trouble sleeping. For kids, who might not yet have the emotional vocabulary to talk about their feelings, Browne said it can include behavior like temper tantrums or increased clinginess.
“We can [also] see kids withdrawing, and same for adults—not being interested in things that they normally would, isolating themselves more,” she said.
Processing grief and trauma, especially when the event happened at school, can show up in academic performance.
“Kids can have problems focusing,” Browne said. “That can be an issue with just getting through the school day. Irritability can be a problem, too. They might be getting into trouble more than usually, stemming from what they’ve gone through.”
If parents or other adults notice these signs, Browne said a great first step is “just allowing that space to talk about it and process it, because carrying all these emotions and bottling them up makes it that much more difficult.”
Mental health support is an ongoing need for the community
While Browne was there for a week with the hospital team, she knows the shooting “is something that’s going to impact that community for the rest of their lives.”
She hopes there’s continued resources for mental health support in schools, where kids spend most of their time, and education so children can learn about their emotions and have tools to manage them as they grow up.
Her experiences in Uvalde have changed her practice: a reminder that there aren’t easy fixes for traumatic events.
“In a situation like this, there aren’t any magic words that I could say,” Browne said. “That’s not really realistic or needed. [It’s] the power of creating that space for someone to really be heard, be supported, and allowing them that space to grieve.”
“Just because the media attention has died down a bit, the need is still there, and it still will be there for years to come,” she said.
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