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KPBS Midday Edition

Q&A: How to limit trauma, stress in wake of mass shootings

Ten people were killed and 10 more were injured at a dance studio near a Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday night. Here, a woman is seen praying for victims outside Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., on Monday.
Jae C. Hong
/
AP
Ten people were killed and 10 more were injured at a dance studio near a Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday night. Here, a woman is seen praying for victims outside Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., on Monday.

A mass shooting in Monterey Park, California is serving as a grim reminder of just how random such acts of violence can be.

The attack, which killed 11 and injured nine, occurred on the eve of the Lunar New Year, at a ballroom dance studio that was a gathering place for older Asian Americans and Chinese immigrants.

According to Koko Nishi, a clinical psychologist with Counseling and Psychological Services at SDSU, it's important to take the appropriate time to acknowledge these incidents and how they can lead to trauma and stress. Nishi joined Midday Edition on Monday with more. This conversation below has been lightly edited for clarity.

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As a psychologist, how do you help people cope with their anxieties after a mass shooting like this has happened?

Nishi: I think just from my own experience, even within my own family and the anxieties we were experiencing, I go back to really just making space to validate what we're experiencing. My daughters both expressed being scared and confused as to what happened and a little bit worried to be out in public with all these police cars and helicopters, and so I try to validate that. I really encourage folks to allow their experiences to come up, allow whatever emotional feelings and experiences that they're having to have space to talk about that, because I think what we tend to do in general in our community is to internalize and to kind of stay silent and not bring attention to ourselves. So if folks are feeling anxious, if they're feeling concerned, or if they're worried, I think it's important to have a space where they can have those feelings validated and their experiences heard.

After a mass shooting, a lot of people are glued to the news and social media trying to learn more about what happened. What impact does that amount of focus have on mental health, you think?

Nishi: It's just been compounded over the past few years with the pandemic. Now, with mass shootings, I feel as though on some level we become so inundated with it that we become desensitized, and so we hear about another mass shooting right after and it's like, yeah, okay, this is the norm when it shouldn't be the norm. For me personally, the impact has been just that desensitization and also just the lack of compassion towards one another. We're so quick to judge and make assumptions when we see a headline. That, I think, limits our curiosity in trying to find more about the truth and just kind of go with whatever we see or whatever we hear.

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As a psychologist, what do you recommend to people who are feeling scared and even traumatized by mass shooting events? How can they move forward?

Nishi: I'm in that position right now. I'm trying to find a way to move forward and I don't quite know what to do, and so maybe part of that is being honest with where you're at I think in our society today, there's so much pressure to just move on on to the next thing. There's always so much that we have to do, and I'm guilty of this, where I'll jump into work, I'll pour myself into projects and just stay busy and kind of keep myself distracted. Then I find that the stress or the trauma or the anxiety or whatever those emotions are that I didn't process show up in other places that are unwelcome, and so it could be when I'm out at the park with my kids and I snap at them because I am stressed about something that I didn't process. I really try to encourage, especially the students that I work with, to find spaces, to talk about these things, to have conversations where we can have shared experiences and be able to validate one another's emotions, because when we don't do that, it compounds, and the stress and the trauma just perpetuates.

Particularly with intergenerational trauma, that's something that we see where when it's not processed, it carries on through future generations. So it sounds so basic, but yet it's also really hard to do, just to take a step back and take some time. If you are finding that it's difficult to focus on work or go about your daily business, to really take some space, to call someone that you can talk to, to find a community that you feel comfortable talking with, or just spending time kind of reconnecting with yourself and others, I think is really key.

The timing of this shooting during the Lunar New Year, it really seems to highlight the difficulties the AAPI community has faced in recent years. From your perspective, how is the community feeling?

Nishi: Well, I can't speak for all the community —I can just speak for the small circle that I've been a part of in the last day or two, but it felt very devastating. My initial reaction that I shared with you was like, oh, not another attack on the community. But then to find out that was carried out by one of our own was even more painful, and just trying to make sense of it has been really difficult. I think for a lot of us, yesterday, being Lunar New Year, it was such a celebratory occasion, and so many of us had not been able to celebrate with loved ones for so for two, three years, and to find at this opportunity and to have something like this happen just felt really heartbreaking.

At the same time, though, I also felt that there was this real connection to being grateful and present and appreciative of our loved ones and to really not take life for granted and to really check on each other. In some ways, it did feel like we were coming closer together, and I found myself reaching out to my community and my loved ones and my friends and checking in more so than just saying, like, "Hey, happy Lunar New Year." It was more like just wanting to send love and hugs and when can we see each other next? Things like that. So I feel like it's kind of a lot of emotions mixed into one, which is why it's so important to really prioritize time, even if it's a few minutes, just to have a moment to really sit and honor your feelings and acknowledge what's going on for each of us.

  • The shooting in Monterey Park over the Lunar New Year weekend is serving yet another reminder of how random acts of mass violence can be. We talk about the impact mass violence has on mental health.