UVALDE, Texas –
A girl flees when she sees skinny people with long hair similar to the gunman who burst into her school in Uvalde, Texas and killed 21 people. A boy stopped making friends and playing with animals. A third child feels her heart skip a beat as she recalls the May 24 massacre that killed a close friend – once at such a dangerous rate that she had to be taken to the hospital, where she stay for several weeks.
The 11-year-old girl was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Associated Press spoke to her and her family on the condition that her name not be used to protect her identity.
“I’ve never lost someone before,” she said, adding that her friend was among 19 students and two teachers killed in the deadliest school massacre in a decade. of the United States will encourage her through difficult times. “She’s a very strong person.”
As the students got ready to return to Robb Elementary School on Tuesday for the first time since the massacre, PTSD symptoms began to emerge. Parents find themselves unable to help, and experts worry because communities of color like the predominantly Hispanic city of Uvalde face disparities in access to care. mental health care. For low-income families, it can be even more difficult, as access to limited resources requires long waits for referrals through medical assistance programs like Medicaid. .
“It’s hard to hear what these kids have to go through as children,” said Yuri Castro, a mother of two boys in Uvalde, whose cousin was killed in the shooting and her sons. They were once taught by two murdered teachers. Castro knows about children who are so traumatized that they can no longer speak.
School shootings have taken the lives of survivors significantly. For some people, symptoms persist for years, and high-quality treatment can be difficult to find.
In recent years, Texas lawmakers have focused on spending money on mental health services, spending more than $2.5 billion in the current fiscal year.
But according to the family of the 11-year-old – lifelong residents of Uvalde – the only mental health center in the area – just a few blocks from Robb Primary School – is rarely used or discussed, doing raised concerns about a lack of awareness regarding the signs and symptoms of mental illness and the stigma surrounding seeking help.
The mother of an 11-year-old girl whose heart palpitations led to hospitalization says open conversations about mental health were previously taboo in the crowded Latino community, where culturally, health psychiatry is denied because of feeling lazy, bored, or throwing a tantrum.
“I remember growing up, it was like ‘Go over there, you’re just a game,'” the mother said, using a Spanish word for ‘perverted act’.
Now, she says, the town is waking up to the reality of mental health even as some still ask why survivors like her daughter need help.
Members of the community supported each other by engaging with family and friends widely and taking advantage of established community resources, including Red Cross counseling and emotional support. from churches. The parents of one of the slain children have formed an organization that will organize retreats in the wilderness for the families of the victims and survivors. Residents also have social media groups where they can share mental health resources and express their grief.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission contracted with organizations to create a mental health hotline that in six weeks answered nearly 400 calls.
Martha Rodriguez, who has coordinated efforts to help students recover from the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., said officials need to visit the community to ensure resources are in place. Fit. She said addressing stigma and sending providers who understand family language and values is key.
“Some families may not feel comfortable sharing their suffering and needs,” she said.
Many of the families affected by the shooting are Roman Catholic. The mother of an attack survivor said her daughter was only able to open her heart to a priest in Houston – 280 miles (450 km) away – whom the family came to see when they were visiting relatives.
“This is going to be a long journey. It’s not going to be something where we can do some work and fix it,” said San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller.
Julie Kaplow, director of trauma and grief centers at Texas Children’s Hospital and New Orleans Children’s Hospital, said many students survived the May 2018 Santa Fe High School shootings that left 10 people outside Houston was symptom-free for six months.
“I anticipate that we will see some similarities,” said Kaplow, who has trained clinicians and others who are treating families in Uvalde. “Part of the reason is that those symptoms have not yet manifested and will begin to manifest when they are reminded of the event itself. Or caregivers begin to realize, ‘Wait a minute, my baby hasn’t eaten yet. , still not sleeping. “‘
The duration of treatment varies depending on the severity of the symptoms. For some people, it can last up to two to three years.
Melissa Brymer, director of the counterterrorism and disaster program at the UCLA-Duke National Center for Traumatic Stress in Children, was a lead advisor to public schools in Newtown, Conn., following the massacre in Newtown, Conn. Sandy Hook Elementary School 2012. She said officials need to make sure families can get services at the school. They also need to create more welcoming spaces, such as community meals, rather than clinics.
Parents of 5th graders who are struggling with symptoms have chosen to have their child homeschooled this year so they can go on to appointments more easily. She also has a service dog that will alert her if her heart rate goes up.
But she worries about her brothers going back to the classroom and worries about how others will judge her for how she was affected by the massacre when she wasn’t shot. , her mother said. She is awakened daily by nocturnal terrors.
“We don’t sleep… We don’t even know what it is since this happened,” the mother said. “How long will I have to deal with that for her to heal.”