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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


The impact of trauma on campus: How students are affected, what they can do to begin to heal

Em Marie Cuevas
Students dealing with trauma may often feel isolated or alone, but there are plenty of resources offered both on campus and within the community that can help students find the support they need.

After the on-campus shooting of University of Arizona professor Thomas Meixner on Oct. 5, 2022, finding ways for students to support their mental well-being and what options are available to them has become even more of a necessity.

The mental health of students attending the UA is an ongoing conversation, especially following traumatic events like the October shooting. As individuals try to cope and grieve, there are several options students can consider to aid this process.

For some students, the recent school shooting on campus isn’t the first time they have experienced this type of violence. One of these students is Ryan Hicks, a sophomore at the UA.

When Hicks was in high school, she experienced a school shooting. People she knew in class or extracurricular activities were injured and killed. Even after this traumatic event, when she came to the UA she was still struggling, according to Hicks.

“My grades really suffered last year because I didn’t understand how to get help, and no one understood what it was like to be afraid in a classroom […]. It was very, very isolating coming into a new environment. Until the shooting happened in October this year, I felt like no one really knew what it’s like,” Hicks said.

For Hicks, it was beneficial to reach out to her mother and friends. Being able to talk with her friends from high school who have gone through the same thing was important, she said.

Reaching out to others, whether they be friends, family or strangers can be a helpful outlet after experiencing trauma or extreme stress.

Maggie O’Haire, associate dean for research at the UA College of Veterinary Medicine, researches how service dogs can affect veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. O’Haire discussed the importance of opening up and connecting with others.

“I think one of the most dangerous things is when someone isolates, stops talking and doesn’t connect with their community or the resources and support that are available,” O’Haire said. “So my advice would certainly be to speak up. Say something to someone and know that there are people who care truly and want to help.”

People who feel like they are not close enough with anyone to talk to still have options as well.

“There are national hotlines that even accept text messages,” O’Haire said. “So it doesn’t necessarily even mean that you need to physically find someone and talk to them. A starting point can just be one of the national crisis hotlines […] anything that sends a message to someone is an excellent first step.”

Therapy has also been helpful for Hicks. A treatment Hicks recommended to others is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy. 

According to the American Psychological Association, EMDR “encourages the patient to briefly focus on the trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation (typically eye movements), which is associated with a reduction in the vividness and emotion associated with the trauma memories.”

Hicks, like O’Haire, also stressed the importance of reaching out to others who have experienced similar things and finding strength in that support system.

“Even more than therapy, sometimes I think just finding a community is more helpful,” Hicks said.

An extension of this message can be seen in the Students Demand Action chapter for survivors of gun violence at the UA that Hicks has established. 

“The chapter I started was because I found no resources on campus,” Hicks said. “Starting it for me was really helpful because it was a way to channel my feelings towards what was happening into something […]. There’s been a very big network of support that’s come up behind it.”

According to Hicks, her advice for other students who have experienced a traumatic event is that if you need help, see if UA Counseling & Psychological Services are available, reach out to a therapist or lean on a loved one or trusted friend.

When students experience violence in a learning environment, it could lead to various mental health conditions. 

One disorder that results from trauma is post-traumatic stress disorder. Not everyone exposed to trauma will develop PTSD; it primarily depends on a variety of factors. Each person responds to events or trauma differently, according to O’Haire.

PTSD’s symptoms include internal reminders of the trauma, avoidance of external reminders, heightened states of anxiety and negative changes in mood or thinking, according to O’Haire.

A lot of these symptoms are normal after people go through trauma, said Patricia Haynes, associate professor in the Health Promotion Sciences department at the UA’s Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. The biggest issue is when these symptoms worsen — one of them being avoidance.

After trauma, the most common reaction is depression. Sometimes people express that they don’t feel the full range of emotions that they used to feel, and this sense of numbness can result in depression, according to Haynes.

“It [a school shooting] is such an acute and traumatic event. It’s also in a place where an individual is hoping to feel safe and secure and learn. So certainly an event like that could be triggering,” O’Haire said. “And I think the most important thing would be to address early symptoms, to seek resources, to seek help, to engage with [the] community and really support each other as a means of preventing that. Because it doesn’t mean that someone will get PTSD, but it is certainly a traumatic event that requires attention.”

According to O’Haire, the most effective treatments for this disorder are prolonged exposure therapy, cognitive processing therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. These treatments typically involve exposure to small doses of previous trauma, so that the patient becomes more comfortable with it and recognizes that they are still safe.

It can be helpful after a traumatic event to slowly and gradually expose yourself to those fears. Therapy is as versatile as it is helpful whether you have a disorder or just want to develop skills, according to Haynes.

Haynes believes that the therapists at CAPS have solid training and offer evidence-based therapies for treating students who have gone through a traumatic event. 

“It can be a really nice resource for students,” Haynes said. “It’s never too late to seek treatment. And definitely not to feel bad about that at this point in time.”

If you are seeking help:

CAPS hours are Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. by appointment only. 

CAPS 24/7 number: 520-621-3334

Free Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988

Free Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

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