Counselors: Look for signs of distress

A year after the Aug. 31, 2019, mass shooting school counselors offered advice on how to look for signs of distress in children and adults.

Superintendent Scott Muri hosted an ECISD Live event with Student Assistance Services Counselor Magaliy Navarette-Tecero from Odessa High School, Carrie Beyer, an SAS counselor at the Alternative Education Center, and Kamille Garcia, a counselor at Jordan Elementary School.

Last year, Muri said, the community suffered a significant tragedy when Seth Ator gunned down seven people and injured 25 across Midland and Odessa before being killed himself by law enforcement outside the Cinergy movie theater.

Muri noted that OHS student Leilah Hernandez, 15, was one of the people killed. He added that trauma isn’t something that goes away in a week or two. It continues to manifest itself in people’s lives and can present in a variety of ways.

There also has been the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted the economy sparking Ector County to have one of the highest unemployment rates in Texas.

Muri said just the fear associated with COVID-19 is creating trauma in families.

For that reason and the mass shooting, Muri said he wants to raise awareness of trauma and signs of distress.

Navarette-Tecero said trauma is different for everybody. It can be something that’s real or perceived.

“Everybody can experience the same event, but how they perceive it can be totally different,” she said.

It’s not just feelings, but it’s physical too, Navarette-Tecero said. If you were in a car accident, for example, anytime you go past that intersection you’re going to have that feeling.

For young people, she said trauma mainly shows up physically.

Beyer said some of the responses they look at are stomach aches, or a headache that won’t go away.

Asked how grief and trauma fit together, Navarette-Tecero used the example of Sept. 11, 2001, when two planes brought down the World Trade Center, one smashed into the Pentagon and another crashed in Pennsylvania.

In Odessa, she said, people felt safe because incidents like that happened in large cities like Houston or Los Angeles.

Navarette-Tecero said people in Odessa had a sense that because this was a smaller town people were safe, but after Aug. 31, “we were shaken to our core.”

Parents had the sense that if they kept their children at home and had everything organized they could keep their children safe. But COVID made parents realize there are things they don’t have control over.

Plus, if a parent was the main provider at home, and they lose their job, that shakes up a lot of things.

“Grief can be all those things as to how we identify ourselves and what gives us security,” Navarette-Tecero said.

Muri asked the counselors to talk about the connection of trauma, grief and suicide.

Garcia said it’s carrying a heavy rock in your backpack every day. She added that it’s important to catch these things with young children and ask them what they meant when they say certain things.

She said some young people even in kindergarten and second grade can start injuring themselves or having suicidal thoughts.

Beyer said a lot of times you see ideations of suicide. Students may also scratch or burn themselves.

“It’s not so much I have this imminent plan to commit suicide, it’s this idea that I don’t want to be here because life is really hard. I don’t like the fact that my boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with me,” or they may not like their friend group because they’re not supportive, Beyer said.

Sometimes students say they’re coming to see her for a friend, but it’s really the student themselves, Beyer said.

She said you see a lot more aggressive suicide attempts in high school, whereas it’s more thoughts of suicide in elementary.

Navarette-Tecero said if a student expresses thoughts of suicide she will bring the parents in and facilitate the conversation.

She added that most parents are attuned to their children. For example, a parent may have a gut feeling that something is off even if it’s not readily apparent.

Boys express themselves differently than girls. Girls may cry more and men’s moods may change. Youngsters may shun things they enjoyed, sleep too much or too little and eat too much or too little.

They may have difficulty concentrating.

“I tell the families this is not a one-time conversation …,” Navarette-Tecero said.

Garcia said these signs of distress are not strictly for youngsters.