An old “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” clip flying around this week on social media shows Fred Rogers, in shirt and tie, calmly talking about troubled times.
“When I was a little boy, and something bad happened in the news, my mother would tell me to look for the helpers.
“‘You’ll always find people helping,’ she’d say.
“And I’ve found that’s true. In fact, it’s one of the best things about our wonderful world.”
Rogers, Presbyterian minister, songwriter and author, was on to something, experts say.
“It’s all over Facebook,” said Melissa L. Whitson, assistant professor of psychology at the University of New Haven in West Haven and a licensed clinical psychologist.
Michelle Lawler, a licensed professional counselor at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, was reminded of that quote after the Newtown slayings in December.
“He was able to put things into perspective,” Lawler said Wednesday.
Sometimes people forget the good in the world, she said.
“But when bad things happen, it gives us an opportunity to assess what’s important to us, to show appreciation and gratitude to people and give back to society in some small way,” Lawler said.
That makes people stronger and more able to cope, she said.
It’s also important to acknowledge your feelings, experts say.
Whitson, Lawler and Lauren M. Sardi, assistant professor of sociology at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, have a few tips for the public about dealing with and healing from trauma:
Respect your feelings
Don’t try to shut out the pain.
“It’s OK to be upset,” Sardi said. “If it doesn’t make you upset, that’s OK, too.”
There can be a grieving process, and a certain period of reflection, Sardi said.
Give yourself the time you need.
Talk about it
Maybe even see a professional.
UNH this week reminded its community that the counseling office was open.
People can get relief when they express their feelings, Sardi said.
For children exposed to trauma, directly and indirectly, the outcome is tied to parental stress or caregivers’ reaction to the trauma, Whitson said.
“It can be really hard as a parent to try to be totally OK for your children when you’re affected as well,” Whitson said.
Reassure older children they are safe and the bad things won’t happen to them because they are very rare, Sardi said.
Donate time, money
Sending pizza to Boston, holding vigils or organizing fundraisers can build a sense of community and shared emotional connectedness, experts say.
“It can buffer against the effects of exposure to trauma,” Whitson said.
It should be encouraged, she said.
“It helps them feel some control over a highly uncontrollable situation,” Whitson said.
It’s also important to promote help-seeking behaviors as normal, Whitson said.
“If you’re struggling … it’s OK to seek help,” Whitson said.
TURN OFF THE TV
“When something happens, not only do we hear about it, but we hear about it several days, and it seems like it’s the only thing going on,” Whitson said.
When an event is covered nonstop, every time you see it it can be traumatizing all over again, Whitson said.
That’s particularly true for young children who may not be able to distinguish that it’s not happening in the present, Whitson said.
Even if they’re not directly involved, there can be vicarious trauma watching it unfold, “which still touches on our core vulnerability,” Whitson said.
“So turn off the television set, particularly for young kids. For adolescents, have a discussion.”
The media learned after Newtown that some shooters can be motivated to some degree by the idea of “not being a nobody, but being infamous,” Whitson said.
So the idea is to focus on the families and communities and how they’re recovering, and the lives that were lost.
Find the good
“The only thing we have is this moment right now in front of us, so cherish the moment you have and do your little bit to improve,” Lawler said.
“If we live our life in fear, then there’s no quality to life,” Lawler said.
She goes to website dailygood.org and radio station 92.5 FM, each which feature a good story daily.
not more evil
People aren’t more evil now.
“If you look back in history, people have been doing acts like these for all times,” Whitson said.
Tragedies sometimes tend to happen in clusters, and are not necessarily predictable, Sardi said.
But a sense of strength comes with overcoming an invisible evil, Sardi said.
“When you feel like everyone’s evil, look at all the people who were rushing in to help, which far outnumbers the people who were doing evil,” Whitson said.
Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Boston: The public becomes almost numb as a response to trauma.
There is not one way that people experience it, Whitson said.
There can be a feeling of numbing, which is the brain protecting itself. People can be overwhelmed, anxious and depressed.
“A lot of these initial reactions are normal, expected, and it’s OK, it’s how we process things,” Whitson said. “The problem becomes when we don’t return to normal and recover to the previous state of functioning.”
Call Phyllis Swebilius at 203-789-5681.