Panel examines how communities heal following traumatic events

LEBANON, N.H. (WCAX) Traumatic events were the focus of a panel discussion in Lebanon, New Hampshire. No matter how big of a tragedy, the experts say it often takes an entire community to come together to heal.

"It was the most difficult and excruciating year of our lives," said Family therapist Katherine Allen.

Allen knows trauma all too well. Her practice based out of Trumbull, Connecticut, is just 15 miles from the Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 students and six staff members were gunned down in December 2012. "Every client that I have prior to the incident either knew someone or was directly affected by someone. One of my colleagues actually lost her daughter," Allen said.

Allen was among the panelists at a "Community Conversation" in Lebanon put on by PUSH, Partners United for Safety and Health.

"We are in this day and age where these kind of events are taking place, so why aren't we talking about it at a community level," said the group's Angie Leduc.

And whether it's a shooting at a school, a concert in Las Vegas, or an isolated incident at a hospital just down the road, the experts say the events all take their toll on the community.

"I think you see a bleed over from national events come into the Upper Valley, and things that happen here have a reverberating effect across the country, and vise versa," said Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello.

PUSH organizes these panel discussions once a year. This one, focusing on trauma, was a result of the 2017 fatal shooting at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center where a domestic incident played out inside the hospital and left one person dead. The medical center, like schools across the region, plans for large scale emergencies on a regular basis, but what's more difficult to plan for is how to recover from them.

"You don't really know the detail of that until the event happens or the character of the event. I think we learned a lot, not just from the event itself and how to prepare for the situation, but how to prepare for recovery as a whole," said DHMC's Dr. Eric Martin.

A good start, according to experts, is bringing people together. Eric Russman is the Dean of Students at Kimball Union Academy. A KUA student was among the five teenagers killed in a horrific crash a year and-a-half ago on Interstate 89 caused by a wrong-way driver. Russman says the support from the community in the weeks that followed was crucial.

"Faith-based organizations, different therapists, councilors who live in the area -- they received a call that we needed help and they were there," he said.

"And the more connected we are, the better we can get the information to prevent these things, but then the ability to heal from them," Allen said.

But Allen says the healing takes time, and in some cases the pain never fully goes away. But talking about that, she says, is a conversation worth having.