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Gauging mental health, stress after traumatic event

Licensed professional counselor Bill Prasad shares the symptoms of trauma you should watch for, especially after tragedies such as Astroworld Fest.

HOUSTON — Not all of the estimated 50,000 people who attended Travis Scott’s concert at Astroworld were physically hurt, but they could still be psychologically affected by the tragedy that unfolded. Digital anchor Brandi Smith spoke with KHOU 11 mental health expert and licensed professional counselor Bill Prasad about the symptoms to watch for and how to cope. 

Watch the video above or read the full transcript below.

Brandi Smith: You see a lot of it on social media, the response from people who are either at the concert, had no idea what was going on, or people who are seeing those videos afterwards. So we are chatting with KHOU 11 mental health expert, Bill Prasad. He's a licensed professional counselor about kind of dealing with that trauma response. And I want to star, Bill, with talking about the folks who were there, like myself, who, who didn't have any idea what was happening? What kind of processes are they going through right now?

Bill Prasad: When they discovered what had happened, they're probably being plagued by the ‘what if’ questions: “What if that were me? What if that had happened to me? What if that had happened to one of my friends?” At times those questions can take a person into a really dark neighborhood. People have to stay focused on the ‘what is’ and that, luckily, they are OK. As far as the music, many people like you went to that concert because the music that rapper’s music brought them joy. Now, the music isn't going to trigger happiness, it's probably going to trigger a sense of terror.

Brandi Smith: That is it that really hits home because I can't imagine now listening to Travis Scott's music without going back to that event, which again, I'm really struggling to reconcile in my head. Because what I experienced was clearly so different from what hundreds of people went through. I mean, 300 people are hurt. How can people kind of work through that?

Bill Prasad: Well, first of all, remember that sound is really connected very well to your memories. Brandi, I'm guessing that if I played some music from your past, maybe when you were in high school, it would take you right back to a place and you'd feel a certain emotion. That's what's going to happen here for a while. Some of the early experiences that people might have, they might become startled easily if they hear a noise or maybe hear some people yelling, they might have some problems sleeping, their appetites might be disrupted, they might have additional situations where they feel an extra level of irritation. Or at times, they might just feel numb. A person has to remember that in the first 30 days post- this type of situation, those are all pretty normal reactions. And then, Brandi, if you take a look at one's past, an individual has to remember, do they have trauma in their past? Were they at Santa Fe for the high school shooting? Were they here for Hurricane Harvey? Are they a sexual assault survivor? Are they a domestic violence survivor? Having gone through some of those things, this particular incident might also trigger them and we have to understand that.

Brandi Smith: You brought up the symptoms to watch for. You know, so many of the people in this crowd that I saw were young teens, late teens, into their 20s. They're young people. What should parents look out for? Or how should parents respond if they start to see some of these symptoms in their kids who went to the show?

Bill Prasad: The first thing that parents need to keep in mind is that teenagers have a greater propensity to develop post-traumatic stress disorder as compared to adults. So if you see a teen that is having some problems sleeping, that at times the teen is not eating, maybe they're isolating, maybe they're more angry, more irritable, and they also cannot focus on their studies, if they're starting to lose interest in some of the activities that they used to like, those might be indicators that the teenager needs some additional help, perhaps in the form of a counselor. Keep in mind that in the first 30 days after a traumatic incident like this, people will have certain reactions. These are normal reactions. But once we get to that 30-day period, the majority of people will see their symptoms subside. If their symptoms don't subside or they get worse, that's a big red flag. You can't diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder in the first 30 days. It's only 30 days and more after the end.

Brandi Smith: Fascinating. I didn't know that. Another component to all this is some of the video that's coming out. It is graphic. It is brutal. It shows what some of these folks went through in these pockets where they're falling to the ground, scrambling to get back up, gasping for air. As people want to learn more about what happened at Astroworld Festival, they're watching these videos and it sort of triggers this cycle of seeing more, of taking that in, and then wanting to see more because they're trying to get answers. How do how do folks cope with that?

Bill Prasad: Right, seeing that video again and again, can be horrifying and traumatizing. During the pandemic, people, especially kids, have spent more and more time in front of screens. And if you're seeing that video again and again, imagine that trauma is like a fire in a fireplace. That fire will eventually die out. But if you keep looking at videos, it's like tossing wood on that fire. We really have to pay attention to the amount of videos that we're watching. Parents really have to pay attention to how much time their kids are spending in front of screens and try to make an effort to reduce that time. Brand, some of the research that came out that took a look at African American men. In the months after looking at pictures of African American men being killed, those African American men, in the 90 days where they watched some of those videos, got to a point where many of them could be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, major depression. So there is evidence that supports if you see these videos and these images again and again, it is not helpful. If you're wondering, ‘Well, why would someone just keep looking at those videos?’ They're looking for some answers. They're looking for some closure. They're looking for a way out. But watching those videos is not the way to go.

Brandi Smith: It all goes back to that ‘what if,’ right? It's really easy to put yourself in that situation, imagining if you were just a little bit closer or if you'd been there. You just get in a really dark headspace.

Bill Prasad: Right and in that dark headspace, sometimes in our ‘what if’ questions, we connect them to the darkest scenario. It isn't ‘What if and what if I've been able to get out?’ It's usually ‘What if and what if I’d gotten hurt?’ ‘What if my girlfriend or my partner or my spouse had been hurt or killed?’ It's not a good place to go.

Brandi Smith: Bill, you're always such a great resource. Was there anything else that you wanted to mention that you think would be useful for the folks at home watching this?

Bill Prasad: Yes, in this time period right after the event, it's important that you make sure you understand what's your past and what may continue to trigger you. Talk to people. Get in exercise. Make sure you eat well. Meditate, yoga, whatever those things are that you have done in the past. Please do them again.

Brandi Smith: Thank you so much for your time and for your knowledge.

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