Grieving As a Nation

Earlier this week, our country experienced the 27th school shooting in the United States this year.  Nineteen more children and two more adults are no longer with us.  Uvalde is shattered.  It is sickening and heartbreaking and incredibly overwhelming.  How do we as individuals and families cope with this news?  And, perhaps more importantly, how do we as a nation cope with this news?  Collective trauma is a shared emotional reaction to a terrible event.  We are all being collectively traumatized by school (and other) violence in our country, and I am hearing from many of you about a growing need to come together and grieve as a nation.  To feel connected rather than divided.  To find a way to feel hopeful rather than hopeless.  To actively cope with our shared anguish rather than numbing ourselves to the pain.  Strong social connections, support from others, and community engagement are proven to help us cope with, and heal from, collective trauma.  As such, here are some suggestions for collectively grieving for Uvalde, our nation’s most recent tragedy, and feeling more connected to others in this time of pain:

  1. Talk to each other.  Reach out to your family, friends, colleagues and talk about what is happening.  Talk about your reactions to Uvalde, and all of the things you are feeling and thinking.  Some of us might be watching news nonstop.  Others have turned it all off and are trying to focus on other things.  Others might be taking action and calling their elected officials to fight for change.  Others might be trying to pretend that it didn’t happen.  Each and every one of these responses is normal, and it can be healing to share our experiences with one another.  (Keep in mind that this would be a time to respectfully and nonjudgmentally listen to each other’s views rather than debating about the issues.)
  2. Honor the tragedy by learning more about the children and adults we have lost.  Read their stories and share what you have learned with others so as to collectively carry their memory forward.
  3. Destigmatize mental health struggles.  If we can work as a nation to destigmatize mental illness, we will be better able to support one another in accessing treatment when needed.  In addition, learning about “red flags” for mental illness and knowing what to do when we identify those risk factors in ourselves and/or others will help us better protect our nation from these kinds of tragedies in the future.
  4. Take in the collective good in our world.  Taking in the good doesn’t mean we are ignoring what has happened, but it does mean that we are fitting this tragedy into a broader notion of our world.  Look around: Who are the helpers?  Who is doing good?  What are some things that are strengthening us as a nation?  Even while terrible things are happening good things are happening too.  Acknowledging that both exist even in the worst of times will help us put one foot in front of the other as we grieve. 
  5. Join with others in our community to activate feelings of connection, safety, hopefulness, and agency.  This may include activities such as talking about the tragedy in broader circles (e.g., meetings, team practices), attending a community town hall, donating our time and/or money to a meaningful cause, making calls for change to community leaders, strengthening community safety plans, modeling and reinforcing shared community goals (e.g., tolerance, acceptance), etc.

We can’t stop the pain of losing more children and adults to senseless violence but strengthening both individual and community resources in the ways described above can help us find our way through the grief we are collectively experiencing as we face school violence and other tragedies in our nation.

Kelly Theis, Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist