For Ventura County, it has been a hard month.
Following the midterm elections on Tuesday, Nov. 6, a mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks the following night sent shockwaves through the community, leaving 12 dead and survivors left wondering how to cope. As if that wasn’t enough for the stricken community, the Hill and Woolsey fires erupted on Thursday, Nov. 8, forcing residents living in Thousand Oaks, as well as Westlake Village, Newbury Park and communities stretching through to Malibu and everywhere in between, to evacuate from their homes.
Dealing with one such tragedy can be hard, but along with multiple can be challenging both physically and mentally. At California Lutheran University, students are being given a chance to relieve stress and deal with the trauma via various activities and counseling.
On Tuesday, Nov. 13, California Lutheran University students attended a forum hosted by university leaders to get a feel for how students were coping with recent events. Many CLU students were personally impacted from the fires and under the mandatory evacuation orders, while others knew Justin Meek, a recent CLU graduate who was a victim of the shooting.
Along with counseling, the university offered “stress-relieving activities” for students, including a rock climbing wall, famed therapy dog Norbert and a glow-in-the-dark dodgeball tournament. The students suggested volunteer opportunities to assist with others feeling the impact of the events, and created donation bags for families and first responders. On Friday, Nov. 30, students will take part in “Brewing Love,” a get together to write thank you cards to emergency personnel.
On Sunday, Nov. 18, students, faculty and community members came together at Samuelson Chapel on the CLU campus to pay homage to Meek, who sang in the University’s choir.
Associate Professor in CLU’s Graduate School of Psychology Dr. Jamie Banker says that when talking about traumatic experiences, especially those that happen shortly after another, the effects can be felt from not only those close to the events but to those who are aware of it or live nearby as well.
“Those in our county who may not have been evacuated or did not know someone at Borderline can certainly be a part of the trauma and be affected,” said Banker.
Banker says that post-traumatic stress disorder from such events is less common than acute stress disorder (ASD). ASD is associated with experiencing symptoms of trauma within one month of a traumatic event. Symptoms of ASD are similar to those of PTSD, only that they typically go away within a month’s time. Feelings of shock, numbness, anger and even guilt can be common following a traumatic event, and cognitive symptoms are common as well, says Banker, such as recurring thoughts of the event, continuous worrying and isolation.
Banker says that it’s important to understand that everyone handles trauma differently.
“All of us here are in the midst of this tragedy so it can be traumatizing for all of us,” said Banker. “We’ll all have a different response at different paces, but most of us really will recover, it just takes time. We have no reason to rush that. It’s important and healthy to take time in that recovery.”
With that being said, Banker adds that connecting with others, returning to normalcy and finding safety in a routine sooner rather than later can have a “greater impact” on recovery.
For those seeking assistance, there are services available. Ventura County 2-1-1 offers resources for those impacted by the Hill and Woolsey fires as well as the Borderline shooting, which can be found by visiting www.211ventura.org or by dialing 2-1-1.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says that “almost everyone has symptoms [of post-traumatic stress disorder] in the immediate aftermath” of a destructive wildfires, which can lead to distress, fear and anger.
Signs can include trouble sleeping, inability to stop thinking about what happened and feeling “on edge.”
The American Psychological Association lists resources and steps to take for recovery, which can be found by visiting www.apa.org/helpcenter/residential-fire.aspx.