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Roanoke counselor explains psychological response to mass shootings

Starnes said shootings at public gatherings make it harder to feel safe.

ROANOKE, Va. – More than 50 people were killed and more than 500 others hurt after a gunman in a hotel room began shooting down on an outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas. 

In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history, people all over the country are trying to process the loss and horror.  In the midst of a nightmare, clinical counselors say it can be hard to fight the fear and feel safe. 

"What gets us the most is the inability to control our environment and know 100 percent where and when we're going to be safe. That can be a hard reality to accomodate in everyday life," said Tamara Starnes, chief clinical officer for Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare.

Starnes said shootings at public gatherings like a music festival make it harder for people to feel safe and comfortable outside their own homes. She said it's even harder for children to handle and to understand. 

"We'd love to have all the answers and be able to provide that to them but really, they're looking for information that's factual -- but not too much -- and a reassurance that they can feel safe in their environment," said Starnes.

Today, images from the shooting are everywhere. Social media continues to make it harder to escape the terrifying pictures and videos out of Las Vegas. But Starnes said, the first step to feeling safer is giving yourself a break from it all. 

"Limit your exposure to the trauma. Sometimes there is vicarious trauma with following things on social media extensively," said Starnes. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration does offer a 24-7 disaster distress helpline for people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters like a mass shooting.

You can reach that hotline at 1-800-985-5990 or text "TalkWithUs" to 66746.