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Counselor: Coping with tragedy can be lengthy process

Counselor: Coping with tragedy can be lengthy process

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Coping with a tragedy such as last Saturday’s apparent murder-suicide can be a lengthy, difficult process, a mental health counselor said Tuesday.

Tennessee High School brought in counselors this week to assist students and faculty with the sudden loss of 17-year-old senior Gabrielle “Gabby” Kennedy. Kennedy, her mother Kristina Robinson, 36, and Robinson’s estranged husband Michael Robinson, 47, were found dead Saturday inside a Trammel Road home in Bristol, Tennessee. Police believe Michael Robinson broke into the home, shot and killed them and then killed himself.

“We can never minimize the impact trauma has on anyone, particularly when we’re talking about students who may not have well-developed coping skills,” said Crystal Miller, director of school-based services for Highlands Community Services. The agency only serves Virginia, so Miller is not involved in this case.

“These students have lost a friend, a classmate, a teammate, or — for others — it may just be someone who said ‘hi’ to them in the hallway. Every person experiences loss differently. Even for those who didn’t know her or her mother, this event may trigger other trauma in their life,” Miller said. “An event like this impacts everyone. It may not be a personal loss, but they may experience the loss of a sense of safety or trust in others or in their community or a loss they’ve had years ago.”

Miller said it’s important to be sensitive to others and realize people cope and grieve differently.

“It’s important for adults to model what is proper coping,” she said. “It’s important for adults to be open about the events, definitely not making judgments about the events because no one knows — except for those people involved. It’s important for students to be able to deal with tragedy in their own way and recognizing some will move through it more quickly than others and then giving them that space.”

Miller said actions such as decorating the high school senior’s parking space at school or participating in a candlelight vigil can prove therapeutic.

“It’s something we can’t really make sense of. It’s shocking, it’s senseless, it’s horrifying. It’s trying to deal with all those different emotions,” she said. “Teachers need to let kids know, sometimes it’s OK to not be OK, and this is one of those times — that we don’t have the answers, but we’re going to figure out how to navigate this together.”

Events such as this can impact sleep and eating patterns, so individuals need to take care of themselves.

“Particularly with kiddos, I would encourage limiting media exposure,” Miller said. “The more we immerse ourselves in the event by constantly reading about it, watching it and reliving it, it keeps it fresh. Sometimes it’s important to take a timeout from all of that. Put the phone down; turn the TV off to be able to just hang out with friends or do something that can help bring closure.”

In the future, she said, it will also be important for people to recognize if they’re continuing to struggle with the loss.

“Eventually you’ll start to feel OK again. It could be a week, a month or a year, depending on how personally impacted you were by this event,” Miller said. “At some point, if you’re still struggling or you feel your symptoms are getting worse — not sleeping, increased irritability, a loss of interest in activities, for students a decrease in academic performance or withdrawal from friends — that may be time to talk with your doctor or a counselor.”

dmcgee@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC

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