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    Anniversary is a term usually applied to happy, positive events like wedding anniversaries or employment anniversaries. It can have a different connotation for people who survive traumatic events.

    This week is the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting that took place on Aug 3, 2019 at an El Paso, Texas Walmart. The shooting claimed its 23rd life in April 2020 when Guillermo Garcia died from wounds received last August. He was shot that day in the parking lot while raising funds for his daughter’s soccer team. The mass killing shocked El Paso. It’s a border city with one of America’s lowest crime rates. One that prides itself on its friendliness, diversity, community cohesion, and civility. The 21-year-old shooter confessed to posting a racist rant, then driving 600 hundred miles to kill “Mexicans.”  Using a military style assault rifle, he fired indiscriminately into the crowed parking lot and store. Law enforcement first responders were on the scene within six minutes of being called but not in time to save 23 lives and 23 more who were wounded. 14 of the 23 killed were Americans. Victims ranged from a toddler age two, to an 80-year-old. Followed that same day by another mass shooting in Ohio, this was the deadliest anti-Latino terrorist act in U.S. history. It gave rise to a feeling of unsafety among many Hispanic Americans who realized they can be singled out for killing simply due to their ethnicity.

    Shortly after the shooting, Espyr provided numerous critical incident debriefing services to groups of first responders. Mental health professionals who conducted these services educated those affected about normal reactions to extraordinary events and about accessing their inherent psychological and social supports, as well as their resiliency skills. They also provided tips about coping and provided information about how to access supportive resources such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).  They screened for and assisted those who were severely or atypically affected by the trauma – sometimes because of pre-existing personal stresses or situations or by underlying mental health conditions.

    This week, the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, Espyr will also be conducting debriefings to support first responders’ wellbeing. This is because of the Anniversary Effect or Anniversary Reaction. It is the phenomenon that can affect those impacted by a traumatic event near the anniversary of that incident. It involves a unique set of disturbing memories, thoughts, feelings, and physical reactions that can occur on or near the anniversary date.

    Most workplaces do not experience mass killings like the El Paso Walmart shooting on Aug 3, 2019. But other traumatic events that don’t garner national attention are very common in the workplace: the sudden death of a co-worker, a robbery, an act of workplace violence, the impact of a natural disaster, or a workplace accident. They can affect many employees, or just a few. They can be disruptive for employers’ operations, but more importantly they can affect the wellbeing and productivity of employees. Especially those who in the best of times are doing their best to cope with some type of private distress. Such as family conflicts, marital or relationship turmoil, health issues, financial strains, caring for a special needs child or an elderly loved one, are in recovery from substance abuse, or are managing a mood or anxiety condition. So, if your workplace has experienced a traumatic event in the past, any kind of traumatic event, keep the Anniversary Effect in mind. Then check-in with your affected team members. If needed, consult with your EAP or behavioral health advisor about how to best check-in or about a plan of action. Add this to your repertoire of tools to support your employees’ wellbeing.


    About the Author

    Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, is the Chief Clinical Officer for Espyr. Norman has worked in the mental health field for over 30 years and is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health clinician.



    El Paso Walmart Shooting Victim Dies, raising death toll to 23

    NBC News

    The Anniversary Effect

    Psychology Today


    About Espyr

    For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

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