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Strangers offer free mental health care to those affected by devastating Fourth of July attack

Strangers offer free mental health care to those affected by devastating Fourth of July attack

'We're seeing people who are grieving not just loved ones who have been injured or lost but grieving the disrupted sense of safety.'

As yet another mass shooting turned what was supposed to be a patriotic celebration into a day of tragedy and fear earlier this month, Alexandra Kaehler, an interior designer from Winnetka, Illinois, felt compelled to do something for those most affected by the tragedy. Kaehler took to Instagram on July 5—the day after the mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, killed seven people and injured dozens more—to crowdsource a list of accessible mental health therapists that people could reach out to. The mom of three also offered to pay for mental health services for those who needed help but couldn't afford it. 



 

"I feel helpless right now," Kaehler wrote. "But there are people who are traumatized by what they saw, and if there's one thing I know it’s that therapy is so incredibly important. Hopefully, this is one *tiny* thing I can do to help right now." Speaking to Good Morning America, she revealed that within hours of her sharing the post, more than 100 therapists asked to be added to her list, which Kaehler said she shared publicly so anyone could reach out. Today, the list has the names and contact details of more than 200 therapists.



 

"It just gave me so much hope in humanity in how ready and willing people were to help," said Kaehler. "And I hope that it has an even wider reach than I know." She was at a July Fourth parade in her hometown of Winnetka with her family when she heard about a shooter opening fire on paradegoers in Highland Park—which is just 15 minutes away—with a high-powered weapon, Kaehler revealed. When I think about the experience that I’m having watching all of this unfold and thinking about what her experience was, it pales in comparison obviously, but I felt just really incapacitated," she said. "It had never happened this close to home for me."



 

 

Kaehler's friend, Natalie Lorentz, was among those who barely survived the attack as she was sitting near some of the individuals who were killed in the attack. "I have moments where I feel panic and anxiety and like I'm back there, and then moments of just overwhelming sadness for what us and so many other people had to go through and then just numbness where I'm compartmentalizing and trying to put one foot in front of the other," said Lorentz, who attended the parade with her husband, mother and three young sons. "It's really just been a whirlwind of emotions."



 

She added that she is worried about the long-term psychological impact of the attack on her sons and the mental health struggles they may face in the future. "They're young and not fully aware really of everything that took place that day. I'm more worried about a month from now, three months from now, what implications that holds for them," Lorentz explained. Jamie Kreiter, a Chicago-based licensed clinical social worker, revealed that it was this very concern that prompted her to respond to Kaehler's call for help. "People are forever changed by traumatic experiences," said Kreiter, CEO and founder of Nurture Therapy, LLC. "This community will be forever changed by this tragedy, so how do we heal? How do we move forward and mobilize?"



 

Although she and her family were safe, she—like several others—experienced secondary trauma, "a type of trauma that comes from hearing about or seeing a traumatic event without physically being there or even having a direct connection to the event," said Kreiter. "What you experience is similar to symptoms of trauma -- picturing yourself there, difficulty with concentration or focus, feeling overwhelmed and flooded by those images, difficulty sleeping, being hypervigilant and feeling that your safety has been disrupted." The social worker revealed that thousands of people in Highland Park have sought therapy services at the town's elementary school and high school, where therapists like herself have donated their services for free, since the attack.



 

"We're seeing people who are grieving not just loved ones who have been injured or lost but grieving the disrupted sense of safety," said Kreiter. "Or they're feeling overwhelmed with emotion or guilt, either that they were there or one small decision may have prevented them from being there. I think I speak for many providers and community members that you just feel this loss of control. People no longer feel a sense of safety. There are some people who weren't there but were deeply impacted and perhaps have some hesitation to seek services. Whether you were there or not there, this kind of trauma is very real." 



 

For individuals who have felt unsettled or unsafe in wake of the ever-rising number of mass shootings in the country, Kreiter recommends these steps—in addition to seeking professional help—to improve their mental health: limit intake of the news and social media, especially before bed; lean on your support system and community; resume as much normalcy as possible and practice grounding and coping skills you are familiar with.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal, substance use or other mental health crises please call or text at 988. You will reach a trained crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also go to 988lifeline.org or dial the current toll-free number 800-273-8255 [TALK].

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