‘It was real’: psychologist describes mental toll Wednesday’s lockdown and hoax can take

PITTSBURGH — Counseling services are being offered at Oakland Catholic, one day after the high school and many others went on lockdown when students thought there was an active shooter in the building. Even though it ended up being a hoax, students thought their lives were in danger.

“It was real,” said Dr. Tammy Hughes, a professor at Duquesne University who is board certified in school psychology. “Everybody is going to be processing what happened yesterday.”

Dr. Hughes said while this generation of kids has been practicing lockdown drills for the majority of their school years, and that most are able to bounce back from traumatic events, what happened on Wednesday will likely take a mental toll on some.

“What separates a trauma response from just a stress situation is the physiological response – heart rate, sweating,” said Hughes. “There’s about a good 20 percent of people that really need extra support.”

Dr. Hughes said since parents already know their kids, they already have a baseline of how the child is, so there are warning signs they can identify.

“You would be looking for changes in eating, sleeping, fear responses, crying, being emotionally clingy, any of those things,” Hughes said.

It’s not just the students carrying the weight of Wednesday’s events: teachers, faculty, and staff are feeling effects too, so when it comes to having those difficult conversations about school violence, make sure you’re in a good headspace. Dr. Hughes said to focus on the “possibility” vs the “probability” and what went right.

“This is how quickly the police got there. This is how soon we were able to get a response right away. See what everyone in the building did to see you were safe,” Hughes said.

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