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What does mental health first aid look like in Uvalde?

 Gillian Rodriguez (center) with her colleagues at the site of Robb Elementary about a week after a mass shooting killed 21 people.
Provided
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Gillian Rodriguez
Gillian Rodriguez (center) with her colleagues at the site of Robb Elementary about a week after a mass shooting killed 21 people.

This kind of care isn’t typical counseling in which a client comes to an office and sits on the sofa for an hour. Instead one might scream in a car, punch a pillow or be comforted with a stuffed animal.

It’s been two weeks since a shooting in Uvalde killed 19 children, two teachers — and left the entire world reeling. Gillian Rodriguez is a licensed professional counselor who came to Uvalde from her practice in San Antonio to help residents affected by the shooting.

She says this kind of care isn’t typical counseling in which a client comes to an office and sits on the sofa for an hour. Instead it might look like this:

“(We might) sit in our cars and scream together and kind of recollect ourselves or grab a drink of water. Wellness looks different in tragedies like this,” Rodriguez said. “It's much more like mental health first aid.”

This might be in addition to traditional counseling and mental health medication for people who need it. And counseling and medicine isn’t necessarily permanent in these tragedies.

“All of these options are seasonal, and they're available when people need them. And ideally, people heal and don't need them anymore. I hope to get fired by my patients,” Rodriguez said.

Gillian Rodriguez with warmies — stuffed animals than can be microwaved to comfort anxiety or stress
Bri Kirkham
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Texas Public Radio
Gillian Rodriguez with warmies — stuffed animals than can be microwaved to comfort anxiety or stress

But there’s also no timeline for the grief that the people of Uvalde are enduring.

There’s not going to be a “return to normal” for most people. Especially, Rodriguez said, for first responders, teachers and other professionals directly connected to the shooting.

“This isn't something that any of us can expect to walk away from and say, ‘Oh, well, you know, of course, that was part of my job.’ There's nothing about this that's part of anyone's job. Ever,” she said, holding back tears. “I know what those words sound like when you think them, when you say them.”

On the particular day Rodriguez spoke to TPR, she had worked 17 hours — including the funeral services for Jayce Luevanos and Jailah Silguero: two cousins who both died in the Robb Elementary shooting.

Rodriguez acknowledged it’s also important for mental health professionals to check in on each other and take care of themselves. At the same time her team remains dedicated to serving the people of Uvalde for months and years to come.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans for a long-term center to offer counseling to those affected by the shooting in Uvalde. The state will put forth $5 million toward those services, but Uvalde County must pay for building purchase or rental.

Free crisis counseling is currently offered to those who need it at the federal Mental Health Services hotline at 1-800-985-5990. Learn more at samhsa.gov.

Copyright 2022 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

Bri Kirkham comes to San Antonio after living most of her life in southern Indiana. She graduated from Ball State University with degrees in journalism and telecommunications.