The Chapel Hill shooting adds to the seemingly endless examples of national gun violence and the trauma they can cause. There are resources for anyone struggling with the effects, health officials say.
On the second Monday morning of the fall semester, students at UNC-Chapel Hill prepared for lectures about the fundamentals of a million and one sciences, humanities, and arts.
By the afternoon, they were living the new, wretched normal of modern education.
Just after 1 p.m., sirens blared across the university that an “armed, dangerous person” was loose on campus. UNC’s alert system told students and faculty to go inside, lock doors, avoid windows, and push their desks against the entrances.
Video from campus showed students running across the open common areas and into strange classrooms, crouching on the floor and behind desks, calling their families, dropping their backpacks out of second story windows then jumping after them because there were reports that the gunman was stalking the halls.
The scenes that have played out in countless other schools, grocery stores, clubs, concert halls and public spaces came to Chapel Hill, adding another stop in a national tour of gun violence, trauma, and the lingering feelings of helplessness they leave behind.
A graduate student in the applied physics department, Tailei Qi, was arrested and charged Monday evening with fatally shooting Dr. Zijie Yan, a professor and Qi’s academic advisor.
Though in reality the danger was isolated to one building, the students huddled across the university didn’t know that across some three hours of lockdown.
Public health officials say that gun violence can cause PTSD and other kinds of trauma, whether individuals are directly affected by the shootings or not. Many health experts, including researchers at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, say that state and federal officials have to recalibrate how they look at gun violence, treating it not just as a criminal issue but as a public health threat that causes damage beyond any physical wounds.
The violence at Chapel Hill may not have been a mass shooting, but it adds it to the new reality of the education system, where elementary school lockdown drills are now nearly as common as the pledge of allegiance.
The feelings of helplessness may be unavoidable, but there are things you can do to recognize the signs of trauma and address anything you may be feeling in the aftermath of violence.
Physical Signs of Trauma
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Eating too much or too little
- Racing heart
- Easily startled
- Overly tired or exhausted
- Overwhelming fear
- Helplessness, hopelessness
- Panic and anxiety
- Intrusive thoughts
- Frequent nightmares
- Mood swings
- Avoidance of things that might remind you of the event
- Lack of interest in things you once enjoyed
What Can You Do?
- Be patient with yourself. This is hard, the impacts of violence and our responses to them can vary.
- Talk to friends, family, trusted advocates about your feelings. Don’t suppress them or try to ignore them.
- Look for others who need help. You can reach out to your local political leaders to demand action, work with local community groups, or even just check in with a friend or classmate to ask how they are doing.
- Limit social media exposure. Cat memes might be just what you need, but try to limit the doom scrolling or sinking into the endless coverage.
- Talk with others with similar experiences. There is comfort in numbers. Talk to other students about their experiences. Lean on others as they lean on you.
- Give yourself permission to have fun, laugh, be light in other things.
- Get outside, exercise, walk, meditate.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
- Get enough sleep.
- Seek professional help. Therapy is a hugely effective way for anyone to work through their challenges.
Open counseling sessions are available throughout the week at SASB North 1118, Carolina Union 2420 and CAPS from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the university says.
Students can also contact the Dean of Students office and access 24/7 emergency counseling line at 919-966-3658.
Officials have also established a hotline for students, faculty, staff, and the community “to address concerns and questions.” 919-918-1999.
The Employee Assistance Program will make counselors available to faculty and staff on Tuesday and Wednesday, the university said. The services are free and confidential.
Staff will be available in person from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Chapman Hall, Room 125, 205 S. Columbia St., Chapel Hill. You can also call 704-525-5850 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., or call 877-314-5841 to make an appointment.
In an email to the entire university system, UNC Chancellor Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz urged students to take advantage of the available resources and to continue to be there for others.
“We know that the wounds of this tragedy will not heal quickly,” Guskiewicz said. “Over the past 24 hours, I have been grateful for the countless ways our community has come together to care for one another.”
Guskiewicz also said UNC would ring the tower bell in Dr. Yan’s name at 1:02 P.M. on Wednesday.
“I encourage every member of our campus community to take a moment of silence during this time. This is an important way … we can come together as a community to recognize the loss we feel.”