A new study may provide guidance for Americans reeling from community tragedies such as the shootings in Newtown, Conn.
In the study, researchers from Virginia Tech teamed with investigators from Finland to document the responses of four communities that suffered similar tragedies in the two countries.
They discovered that community solidarity and support have remarkable benefits for people coping with traumatic mass shootings. People in all four communities expressed their need for belonging after the shootings, and this coming together appeared to bolster well-being.
The study compared responses to tragedies at a shopping mall in Omaha, Neb., and at schools in Jokela and Kauhajoki, Finland, and Blacksburg, Va.
After each of these incidents, the afflicted communities responded with displays of solidarity.
Mass gatherings, community vigils, and spontaneously erected monuments to the victims all demonstrated that the community was in shock, yet united, the researchers said. The residents gathered to express their collective grief, and the intense rituals focused their attention on their collective loss and on each other.
Researched discovered both similarities and differences in the way communities responded to the tragedies.
Community response was more evident in the United States with the government, media, and residents playing an active role in promoting solidarity. In Finland, however, it appeared that neither the government nor the media emphasized informal social support generated by community solidarity.
From these findings, researchers discovered that some interventions may do more harm than good.
Specifically, reliance on government-sponsored crisis counseling and the media’s tendency to focus stories primarily on the shooters (rather than the victims), may slow the healing process and may even create stigmatizing behavior.
Researchers say people assisting communities after tragedies should be careful not to let efforts to provide counseling interfere with the community’s activities.
Based on the team’s research, participating in the activities of local businesses, religious establishments, volunteer organizations, and social clubs shortly after a tragedy promoted solidarity but seeing a crisis counselor did not.
Source: Virginia Tech