Education and outreach in the wake of Arizona shootings

The APA Disaster Response Network responded to the Arizona shootings by participating in a congressional webinar and offering additional support to persons affected by the tragedy

by Public Relations Staff

January 27, 2011 — In response to the recent shootings in Arizona, the American Psychological Association (APA) Disaster Response Network (DRN) was asked to participate in a webinar for congressional managers on strengthening emotional well-being and personal safety in the aftermath of disaster.

On January 19, DRN member Sandra G. Wartski, PsyD, participated in the webinar hosted by Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. Targeted to congressional staff managers, state and district directors and Capitol Hill chiefs of staff, the webinar focused on addressing employee concerns and provided tips on how to manage an office environment in the wake of a disaster.

Sandra Wartski, PsyDDr. Wartski’s presentation focused on understanding psychological reactions to disasters and tragedies, and strategies for managing those reactions. She explained for congressional staffers and managers the normalcy of certain emotional, behavioral and cognitive reactions to tragedies, and described effective methods for coping with distress and reacting in a proactive manner.

“Seeking out others for support is a sign of wisdom, not weakness,” said Wartski. Connections to family and friends, as well as self-care techniques and additional steps for building resilience, are important factors in emotional and physical recovery.

Despite the challenges and sadness of the current circumstances, Dr. Wartski encouraged congressional managers and staff to try to adopt an optimistic outlook. “The more we can orient positively, the more positively we are likely to cope and – as a bonus – the more likely we are to notice positive personal growth” that may be possible following difficult times.

In addition to participating in the webinar, the DRN responded by offering disaster mental health support to persons affected by the tragedy. APA and its Disaster Response Network have engaged in the following response activities in the aftermath of the tragedy: 

  • APA posted Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting, a resource written for the public, which is available at the Help Center, as well as Five questions on the Tucson, Az., shootings for psychologist Joel Dvoskin, PhD, which includes information on recognizing danger signs, talking to children about the tragedy and more.

  • Arizona DRN Coordinator Stephanie Vitanza, PhD, and other members of the Arizona Psychological Association (AzPA) have been engaged in providing support to survivors and families, while also fielding media interviews about the tragedy and resilience. Local psychologists are still needed to serve as as a resource for continuing care. 

  • The DRN Office has remained in contact with American Red Cross national headquarters to offer additional support and track ongoing activities. 

  • The DRN Office has reached out to established contacts  at the U.S. House of Representatives to share information about APA web resources and to offer possible support through the DRN to distressed congressional staffers.

  • The DRN Office has coordinated with APA’s Violence Prevention Office in the Public Interest Directorate to review available information and explore ways DRN experts might be able to use these resources.  

For additional information on APA activities in the wake of the Tucson shootings, or to find out how you can join the DRN program, please visit the Disaster Response Network section at APA's website.