By Shawn Chitnis
AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Staff on the HealthOne Crisis Assessment Team volunteered this week to help victims and their caregivers in Las Vegas with mental health counseling. They will deploy to the city prepared to take on a large number of patients still processing the shooting at a music festival that killed 58 people and injured 489 others.
“I know people are struggling in Las Vegas and I want to be able to assist,” said Christine Lanham, the interim director of the team.
She was asked to assemble a team ready to travel to Las Vegas as the need for mental health experts grows with each day. Lanham most recently was in Houston to take on mental health cases after Hurricane Harvey.
“They knew it was coming, they had some time to prepare,” she said of the hurricane victims. “In this case, people had gone for entertainment, people had come from different states to go there for entertainment, and it was so unexpected and tragic.”
The dramatic change from a fun night of music to a horrific ending with dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries terrorized thousands attending the show on Sunday but also the employees and witnesses nearby. First responders and caregivers treating those affected by the shooting also may be suffering from that traumatic event.
“I think the magnitude of where it took place and under what conditions certainly make it extremely significant,” said Lanham.
The combination of the size of the event and the inability for anyone to prepare for what would ultimately happen that night creates the need for victims, family members, witnesses and caregivers to express the most basic emotions.
“Not being as prepared, really needing someone to talk to,” Lanham explained. “To help process through these feelings, to be validated.”
The public frequently brushes off mental health as a serious issue. It is hard for anyone unfamiliar with the topic to consider it as important to a physical injury or a serious disease.
“Often people that don’t understand mental health, judge it,” said Lanham. “It takes a lot of courage to ask for help, a lot of strength.”
Lanham is based at the Medical Center of Aurora North. The HealthOne hospital is part of a network of medical centers that includes the one in Nevada treating many of the victims from the shooting. Houston showed her that first responders, a group that is often the last to ask for help, may be some of the people most in need of her services. Lanham says caregivers are so busy treating victims that they don’t get time to themselves to cope with a horrific event like the Las Vegas shooting.
“Counseling is very important and it is something that is necessary in all of our lives at one point or another,” she said.
For more resources, Lanham recommends visitint the National Alliance on Mental Illness website at nami.org.