The following blog was written by Cmdr. Ingrid Pauli, U.S. Public Health Service Officer. Cmdr. Ingrid Pauli is U.S. Public Health Service Officer and co-director of the Special Psychiatric Intervention Team (SPRINT) in support of the Sep. 16 shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. She is stationed at Portsmouth, Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Va.
Monday Sep. 16 we had all heard new reports of incidents at the Washington Navy Yard. By noon the SPRINT (Special Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team) team was activated to go to Washington D.C. and within hours we had our team assembled, our gear packed and we were ready to go help. At that point I don’t think we had a clear understanding of how many our Navy family had been impacted.
Tuesday, the day after the tragic shooting, we met with the Fleet Readiness Program Manager at Commander, Navy Installations Command, Ed Cannon. He was already organizing the support for those affected by the shooting. Leadership from Vice Adm. French, CNIC, to Naval Sea Systems Command supervisors let us know they wanted us to make our service widely available, to anyone on the base, civilian, military, contractor, families – it didn’t matter. Anything we needed to do our mission leadership made it available, and in short order.
What is SPRINT?
Our SPRINT team provides short-term mental health and emotional support immediately following a disaster or traumatic event. Our goal is to prevent long-term medical psychiatric dysfunction or disability. To be clear, we don’t sit here and wait for people to come to us. We go to them, where they are, or as close to where they will be working to get people, offices together and let them talk through their experiences. We don’t do psychotherapy or diagnosing; we’re not taking notes, we’re just facilitating a person’s ability to reconnect…and that ends up being tremendously helpful. People need to know they aren’t alone and there’s no one “right” way to experience grief, guilt or pain.
Same But Different
We facilitate group meetings, but we also provide education. We try to let people know what to expect, letting them know the types of responses we have seen after people have experienced a traumatic event.
Having trouble falling asleep, being extra irritable, frequent crying-these are all very different responses, but not uncommon or abnormal. Some people struggle with the fact that they haven’t been able to cry or that they aren’t feeling enough-that can create guilt. What we know is that it’s kind of a little like a bell curve in the way people respond. Some people may experience a lot of emotion and some may experience very little. Some impacts happen quickly, while other people experience all of that, which is considered normal.
Some people may continue to experience difficulty with work or home life and we make sure we can connect them with the all the different resources from Employee Assistance Program specialists, Chaplains, Counselors—we know what resources are out there and we can help connect those in need with those who can help. Because the grief process takes time, our support will continue after we physically leave the Washington Navy Yard.
Everything we have seen to date is as normal as can be expected after witnessing a traumatic event. The victims are not just the people who witnessed the shooting. People who may have worked at building 197, but weren’t there that day, or didn’t get on base before everything started happening; they’re watching from a distance and may feel a sense of helplessness. Some don’t feel they can come forward-they can.
We don’t make people sit in on these groups, and we certainly don’t make people get into detailed descriptions of what they experience. We let the group set the rules. We’re just here to facilitate it for them, to help people have a place where they can talk with others going through the same thing.
New Sense of Normal
With time and support most people are going to get back to what their normal was before the incident. The tremendous support we saw from leadership, providing the counseling, setting the example by participating in groups, letting people know they can get help…that sets the groundwork for healing.
The Emergency Family Assistance Center (EFAC) at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and the Washington Navy Yard will continue assisting victims, workers and families with issues related to the shooting and can be reached for 24/7 care at 1-855-677-1755. If you have questions or would like more information about the resources the Navy is providing, please leave a comment below.