Mental health expert outlines toll tragedy can take on students

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Last week, students in the city mourned the loss of one of their classmates, navigated COVID restrictions and classroom guidelines. Now, a local professional dives into the mental toll these issues can take on children’s mental health.

University of New Mexico Department of Psychiatry Assistant Professor Kristina Sowar said she believes these difficult emotions could spread quickly.

"We anticipate and think that we are definitely seeing some increased levels of anxiety, but hope that some of that stabilizes as kids get more used to the transition and being back in school."

Even beyond school boundaries.

"That anxiety and that fear can indeed continue to just, you know, be an experience for people that are certainly not at that school and farther away, especially in Albuquerque," said Sowar.

Sowar encouraged parents to talk with their children about their school’s safety — and the relative rarity of these tragedies.

She said she knows the conversations can vary based on personal beliefs, especially around guns — but those talks need to happen now.

"I think some parents feel like you know ‘if I just don’t bring it up, either it’s more comfortable for me to not bring it up or if I don’t talk with them about it, I won’t stir more fear’, but often what children would really like a safe space to be able to vocalize their own anxiety or feelings that they’re having,’" said Sowar.

Police said the suspected teenage shooter took the gun from his father, who has a history of violence in the metro.

When families normalize violence, it can lead to tragedies like this.

"I think through good education to the contrary, for learning better coping skills, for learning more appropriate ways of relating to individuals as we do as young people there is certainly an opportunity for growth," she said.

Professionals also said withdrawing, becoming aggressive, or other behavioral changes can be sure signs of underlying emotional distress in your kids, and could happen in the coming days and weeks of this tragedy.