St. Louis psychologist offers ways to promote healing in the wake of tragedy
As St. Louisans mourn the victims of Monday’s shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, in which teacher Jean Kuczka and 15-year-old student Alexzandria Bell were killed and seven others were injured, clinical psychologist Marva Robinson wants people to know that it’s OK to ask for help.
“There is no need to struggle in silence or to deal with this alone — there is help available and out there,” she said on St. Louis on the Air. “We may not have all the answers, but you can speak with a professional to get guidance, even a family therapist to help the entire family go through this process. … Just one phone call can make a dramatic difference.”
Robinson is a member of the St. Louis Association of Black Psychologists, which works to address social problems that affect the Black community. The association was active in providing counseling to community members in the aftermath of Michael Brown Jr.’s killing in 2014.
She said the immediate response in the wake of tragedy, the first 24 to 48 hours, is extremely important to the healing process.
“Having access to the community, and people being open to receiving help, was important to us,” she said. “I think it made a big difference. We were able to [provide them with] coping skills.”
She shared several of those skills on Tuesday’s show, including exercise, being mindful of how much sleep you get and an exercise called diaphragmatic breathing.
“That's when you're breathing from the belly. … It's a deeper sense of breathing that kind of helps with aid and relaxation,” she said. “And then, of course, writing out your feelings. Sometimes when you don't feel safe to say the words, at least getting it out of your mind and down on paper is a skill that can be helpful.”
During Tuesday’s discussion, Robinson also provided insight on behaviors parents might expect to see from their children in the weeks and months ahead — and warning signs to look out for, such as:
“Impairment in sleep, maybe sleeping later, tossing and turning, or waking up early; any decrease in appetite; maybe some irritability, aggression, wanting to isolate more; maybe not drinking as much water as they used to before; or maybe wanting to be with their friends more than usual,” she said.
Robinson added that it’s important to make space for children to have conversations about thoughts and feelings, and to provide them with factual information about what happened.
“Use age-appropriate language. You want to make sure that the child is clear about what's being said because confusion can often breed more anxiety,” she said.
“And also understand that it may not be a one-time conversation, that it may come up later on that evening, could come up next month or even next year.”
Robinson stressed that it’s important for parents and community members to be aware of the compounded trauma many students might be experiencing.
“Have they lost a loved one in the pandemic? Have they lost a loved one to gun violence? Have they been a part of a car theft or any sort of a violent crime? … Those multiple incidents can have a significant impact, even if the child appears to be functioning OK [or] doesn't express a lot of emotions about this particular incident.
“Those are usually some warning signs,” she added, “that maybe professional help is needed to kind of make sure that a child doesn't believe that this is how life is always supposed to be.”
Resources are available:
St. Louis Behavioral Health Response provides crisis support, telephone counseling and mental health resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 314-469-6644 or dial the dedicated youth services line at 314-819-8802. Or text “BHEARD” to 31658.
Behavioral Health Response’s mental health crisis and suicide prevention hotline is available by dialing 988.
St. Louis Public Schools offers a list of behavioral health resources on its website.
YWCA Metro St. Louis provides a 24-hour help line: 314-531-7273.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.