Blog Post

Newtown's Sad Aftermath

sandy hook elementaryIt's been two years since that tragic December day in 2012 when a lone gunman stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary School and massacred 26 people, and many survivors are still suffering from a variety of mental health issues.

According to The Daily Mail, mental health officials say that it is only now, two years later, that the full scope of the psychological damage to survivors is beginning to surface. Demand is higher than ever for treatment from people suffering from anxiety, insomnia, depression, substance abuse, marital difficulties, and guilt.

"We've found the issues are more complex in the second year," said Joseph Erardi, Newtown's school superintendent. "A lot of people were running on adrenaline the first year."

One of those people was Beth Hegarty, a Sandy Hook mother who was in the school on the day of the attack along with her three daughters - all of whom survived. She hid under a conference table during the shooting while the principal and psychologist she was meeting with at the time were both killed.

Her family has been taking advantage of the counseling programs being offered at Newtown's Resiliency Center which was formed in the aftermath of the shooting to provide therapy to the public. She believes the treatment has helped.

"I was super reactive to everything. I would fly off the handle on a whim. I was emotional. I couldn't handle crowds or loud noises," Hegarty said.

"For my girls, there is less running down the hallway in the middle of the night and climbing into my bed. They want to go more places instead of staying at home all the time."

The girls had plenty of issues, such as trouble sleeping and difficulty with loud noises and crowds. At first, whenever they left the house, they would search out places to hide in case something bad happened.

In fact, the family decided to seek counseling when one of the girls couldn't seem to pay attention in the class because she was too busy watching the classroom door.

But they are all improving, thanks to the overwhelming response from the community which included a $15 million grant from the U.S. Education Department and the U.S. Justice Department to support recovery efforts in the town.

"The Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation, which oversees the biggest pot of private donations made to Newtown, has about $4 million left after paying out more than $7 million to the families of the 26 victims and other children who were in the same classrooms but survived," the Mail reports.

Thanks to the federal grant money, Candice Bohr, executive director of Newtown Youth and Family Services, the main mental health agency in the area, was able to quadruple her counseling staff in the months following the shootings.

In addition, the Newtown school system has launched several initiatives including a new program to teach youngsters from kindergarten through high school how to handle their feelings. They're setting up a mental health center at the middle school next month and teachers are being trained throughout the system to identify students who are having mental health problems.

Experts from around the country are working with Newtown to develop a plan to meet the special needs of this community for another 12 to 15 years.

However, this year's anniversary has been darkened by the recent report by Connecticut’s Office of the Child Advocate which details all of the missed opportunities to treat Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza’s mental health and behavioral issues prior to the 2012 shooting.

Experts who treated the boy report that his mother, Nancy Lanza, who was also killed that day, sometimes refused recommended treatments or failed to continue treatments already in progress. Lanza was also found to have been obsessed with mass murder who spent hours alone in his room playing the violent video game Call to Duty.

Meanwhile, parents like Beth Hegarty are coming to grips with the fact that they may never be the same again after what happened there on December 14, 2012.

"Are we 100 percent? No," she said. "But will we ever be 100 percent? We might not be."

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