After a morning of learning anti-shooter strategies, a group of civilians turned their attention toward responding to the emotional aftermath of a devastating event.
The presentation was part two of an all-day workshop organized by the Ardmore Behavioral Health Collaboration. ABHC Director Ashley Godwin said while the topic of grief and trauma is a challenging one, it can’t be avoided.
“We want to create a healthy, connected, resilient community,” Godwin said. “One of the ways we want to foster that is through trauma informed care.”
Trauma informed care is used in settings like Take Two Academy and other alternative education schools. Following a community-wide tragedy, it’s a tool to help everyone, especially younger people, feel safe again.
“A huge element of trauma informed care is feeling safe and secure,” Godwin said. “And we know safety is high priority in our nation in recent years.”
Donnell Cox, who works with Sara’s Project in Ardmore, led the crowd through a step-by-step plan schools and other organizations can use to respond to everything from a person’s sudden death to a larger tragedy.
“That may be different for everyone, just like your grief response is different,” Cox said. “You have to ask ‘what about this is causing me discomfort?’ and ‘how important is my discomfort compared to the discomfort of the child or parent I’m trying to help?’”
Cox said the sheer discomfort the topic causes people is a deterrent, but it’s one that needs to be overcome, and having a plan ahead of time is the best way to confront it.
“Grief work is hard, it’s difficult,” Cox said. “I like to provide nourishment for those staff members and make sure they’re well taken care of.”
Cox said it’s just as important for staff who work with traumatized people to monitor their own stress levels and take steps to mitigate it.
Cox also told the crowd that school assemblies, an oft-used method of telling students bad news, may do more harm than good.
He said telling students about a traumatic situation, whether it’s the death of a teacher or a classmate or something else entirely, can be difficult. Breaking the news in a student’s home room, he said, is a better choice.
“You have kids out here with unresolved conflicts without any sign of someone in their life who will help,” Cox said. “It’s better if it’s in a setting they’re familiar with, with people they’re familiar with and a teacher they’re familiar with.”
On top of that, in tight-knit communities, there’s no guarantee that students in the assembly won’t have close ties to the people affected by a tragedy.
“You have no idea who might be there,” Cox said. “In rural areas it’s a real problem. I’d hate to inform somebody that one of their relatives just died in a car accident in an assembly. I still have that happen.”
Carter County Health Department Director Mendy Spohn said she thinks events like these need to be held regularly.
“We’re helping our community, as a whole, gain more knowledge and skills, whether it’s around a topic like today or just general mental health and wellness,” Spohn said.
She said collaboration and preparation between agencies is key.
“It’s never the time to learn each other during an event,” Spohn said. ‘You have to have that connection before a crisis occurs.”
She said from her position within the health department, she sees events like these as another form of long-term preventative care.
Both the Ardmore Public Library and the Southern Oklahoma Library System closed for the day so staff could attend the training. Cheron Credle with the Ardmore Public Library said the workshops gave her a plan should the worst happen.
“These things happen too often and too much,” Credle said. “So it’s good to know what to do and how to react.”
Donnell Cox can be reached through Sara’s Project at 580-226-7283.