Immediately following the Virginia Tech shootings last month (see
"Va. Psychiatrists Respond to Tragedy at Tech"), APA initiated
several activities to support those directly involved with the event, respond
to media requests, and inform the public about common responses to large-scale
tragedies such as this one.
APA's Office of Communications and Public Affairs prepared a press release
expressing the organization's condolences, pointing out that strong emotional
reactions (sometimes with physical as well as psychological symptoms) to
traumatic events were natural, and encouraging anyone who thought they may
need help in dealing with the tragedy to seek it.
The press release outlined several steps that people can take to help them
cope with their reactions to a disaster or traumatic event. These include
avoiding "overexposure to news rebroadcasts of the event," talking
about feelings with family or friends who are also processing their feelings
about the tragedy, and at what point postdisaster anxiety and depression
warrant seeking help from a psychiatric physician.
The Office of International Affairs, whose purview includes disaster
psychiatry, e-mailed Internet links on disaster psychiatry to Edward Kantor,
M.D., chair of the Psychiatric Society of Virginia's Disaster Committee, and
offered technical help such as access to the APA disaster-related list serve.
The office sent an e-mail on April 18 to district branch disaster committee
chairs throughout the United States asking for the names of volunteers who
could assist Virginia Tech students who were heading back to their homes in
other states and might want consultation for coping with the massacre on their
campus. By the following week, the names of 140 volunteers had been
After material produced by the gunman and mailed in the midst of the
shootings was received and broadcast by NBC News, APA President Pedro Ruiz,
M.D., issued an open letter to the news media urging them to stop airing the"
disturbing writings, photographs, and video." He backed his
statement with reports from the World Health Organization and Columbia
University researchers delineating the dangers that could arise as a result of
copycat suicides or homicides.
The Office of Communications and Public Affairs helped arrange interviews
between APA members and local or national print and broadcast media on topics
ranging from copycat crimes to gun control to whether such events can be
prevented by identifying potentially dangerous individuals. Jerald Kay, M.D.,
chair of APA's Corresponding Committee on Mental Health on College and
University Campuses, was interviewed repeatedly, often on the status of mental
health services on college campuses. He explained to UPI, for example, that"
while the demand for services has increased, many college mental health
units haven't been able to keep up."