Police and fire officials were not the only first responders in Virginia Beach last week. The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB) dispatched two veteran clinicians from the agency’s Mobile Crisis Response (Emergency Services) unit too.
CSBs across the state answered the call from the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services to fulfill the need for additional mental health and crisis counseling for people impacted by the horrific mass shooting that took 12 lives and injured four at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center on May 31.
A third-generation Virginia Beach native and CSB Emergency Services clinician for seven years, one CSB staffer immediately answered the call for help. She is accustomed to seeing and working with trauma, but this time it seemed different. “The entire community felt the effects of this tragedy. The fear, anxiety, loss and grief...this was something done TO them by someone they KNEW,” she recollected. She said the community response was tremendous. Between CSBs, the Red Cross, and private community therapists, there was an outpouring of support. Roughly 130 counselors were on hand to provide services. The Virginia Beach CSB staff were on-scene from the earliest moments after the shooting, many working tirelessly, for 12-13 hours days in support of their community, alongside of those that came from afar.
Another CSB clinician, aged 64 with almost 40 years experience in crisis counseling including two years on CSB's Emergency Services staff, expressed that he saw this tragedy as very different from his daily work, where many people require residential or hospitalization for treatment of their mental health crises. “Victims, in this case, were open to mental health interventions. They knew they’d suffered trauma and were very open to help. Many people were still processing what they had seen or been through and their sleep and diets were off. Counselors were able to help take care of physical health needs as well as the emotional needs, offering an donated gift card or just an apple. It made a difference.” He is a native of the Virginia Beach area and in downtime after his shifts he was able to play guitar, read, exercise and visit with family.
Throughout the week, both clinicians perceived that people continued to process the tragedy and come to terms with what happened. Emotions such as anger as well as fear (of the unknown) resonated. They both agreed, however, that the vast majority of people clearly had strong supports and relied on their strengths. Their resilience is apparent.
Abbey May, CSB’s Director of Emergency Services, was grateful to be able to be able to lend agency support. “We provide emergency services for people in crisis every single day, 24/7. It’s not an easy job. But it’s gratifying to know that our highly-skilled, compassionate clinicians will step up whenever and wherever they’re needed,” she said.
Both CSB clinicians agreed that this event was “life changing for everyone.”
“While supporting people through grief and trauma is challenging, it is also deeply rewarding. We’re extraordinarily grateful to have been able to contribute to the initial time of the healing process for a community where we both have strong roots, love and lifelong connections.”
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