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Students may be struggling with long term mental health effects of the Covenant shooting. Here’s how parents can help.

Six crosses stand at an entrance to the Covenant School in Nashville.
Alexis Marshall
Six crosses stand at an entrance to the Covenant School in Nashville.

Two weeks have passed since the shooting at the Covenant School that killed three students and three adults. For some, the traumatic impact is just beginning to surface.

LeTizia Baxter Smith works at EmbraceU, an adolescent mental health clinic based in Brentwood. She said parents should monitor how kids are doing over the next several weeks. That’s when more long-lasting effects of the shooting will become apparent.

“We certainly want to be on the lookout of any changes in their mood,” she said. “So noticing irritability, anxiety, them being withdrawn, those types of things, and then any changes in their sleep or appetite that may occur as well.”

That goes for kids with a direct connection to the Covenant School, but also for those without.

“There is a condition we know about called secondary traumatic stress disorder,” she said.

Non-Covenant students can still be psychologically affected, particularly if they’ve heard stories or seen videos from the attack. For that reason, she advised limiting what kind of media kids are consuming about the shooting, especially materials like body camera footage or 911 calls.

For those who aren’t sure how to start a conversation about the shooting, Baxter Smith said parents should first check in with their own emotions.

“Kids often have a reaction based on what they think our reaction is,” she said, “so we may need to seek our own help first.”

Then, she said, parents should ask their children what they already know about the tragedy. That’s an opportunity for students to voice their worries and for parents to clear up any misinformation. She advised caretakers to speak honestly about happened, without giving overly graphic details. She said it’s also important to remind kids of what safety plans are already in place, and let them know they’re loved.

For students who are still experiencing symptoms of traumatic stress a month or more after the tragedy, Baxter Smith suggested exploring professional help.

Those in need of immediate crisis support can contact the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990.

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