Parkland counselor speaks on possible mental health impacts from Virginia Beach shooting

Posted at 8:32 AM, Jun 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-10 09:19:50-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - What kind of impact can a traumatic experience, like a mass shooting, leave on the people who survived?

Witnesses to the mass shooting that killed 12 people at the Virginia Beach Municipal Complex have been sharing terrifying stories of what they saw and heard on May 31.

Not even two weeks later, licensed mental health counselor Luna Medina-Wolf says many could still be in shock.

"There’s still a lot of, ‘Did it really happen?’ ‘I can’t believe it really happened’. Some people were completely shut down from talking," she said.

Medina-Wolf has experience in working with survivors of a mass shooting. The owner of Helping Moon Counseling in Boca Raton, Fla. was one of the first counselors to respond following the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead in nearby Parkland.

She is President of a group called Professionals United for Parkland and says students, teachers and their families are still struggling with post-traumatic stress.

"We are a year and four months into it and there are still constant triggers," she told News 3 over the phone. “Some people are just now reaching out for help."

In the case of Parkland, Medina-Wolf says the recent arrest of a school officer and even the shooting in Virginia Beach can be trigger a response, but because everyone is different, it's hard to know the exact impact a traumatic experience will have.

“If we do a rough divide, we talk about 60-20-20," she said. “60 percent of people are going to be effected short-term. Are going to do something about it, see a therapist."

From there, she says 20 percent will struggle and need more long-term support, but will likely get better, while the final 20 percent will require professional help for post-traumatic stress and could face a lifetime of struggle.

The best thing loved ones and those close to survivors can do is let them know they're there for them and ask what their needs might be.

“Some people may not be ready to go to a therapist in the beginning. Maybe they need to go to the beach or go to yoga or go to do an art class. Doing something they normally enjoy to help them feel a little better," said Medina-Wolf.

Medina-Wolf believes, initially, every survivor of a mass shooting should see a therapist that specializes in trauma.

"If you feel like there’s nothing, then stop seeing them, but why not just try," she says.

While some may never struggle with trauma, others may develop it down the line. Medina-Wolf says long-term effects could be survivor guilt or even fear that a shooting may happen again.

“If you go through something that traumatic, you might get stuck with a condition of like ‘I am in danger, I am not safe’. If you’re stuck like that, everything is going to be scary," she said. "You’re really going to have to work through a brain-based technique to change those [thoughts].”

But, again, not everyone deals with trauma the same way and Medina-Wolf says it's important supporters of survivors understand.

"It's really important to recognize where people are and the stages of where they are and be respectful of that."

Click here for our full coverage on the Virginia Beach mass shooting.