flowers

A young boy lays down a flower at the victim’s memorials outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on March 3.

As Parkland residents recover from one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, UF physicians are helping South Florida doctors address the community’s mental health.

In August, Madeline Joseph and Elise Fallucco from the UF College of Medicine in Jacksonville, conducted mental health care training sessions for about 50 health care providers in the Broward and Palm Beach counties, said Daniel Leveton, the media relations manager for UF Health Jacksonville. The providers were trained to improve the screening and treatment of children and adolescents experiencing mental-health problems related to gun violence.

When Joseph and Fallucco reached out to pediatricians in the Parkland-area after the shooting, they responded with an overwhelming need for more training in anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Teenagers were developing depression, anxiety and PTSD, and those with preexisting mental health conditions were getting worse, Joseph said.

“Mental health problems resulting from gun violence are similar to any major trauma,” Joseph said. “However, the impact is on the entire community, not just an individual.”

Prior to the shooting, her team was applying for a $20,000 grant from the American Academy of Pediatrics Disaster Recovery Fund aimed at improving screening for depression in pediatric clinics and increasing the psychiatric options, Joseph said.

After the shooting occurred, she and her team approached the academy again in April for an extra $15,000 grant aimed at improving the screening and treatment of anxiety, depression and PTSD resulting from the shooting. The grant was approved in June, Joseph said.

The trainings were held Aug. 22 and 23 in the Simulation Center at Florida Atlantic University. The team chose the week shortly after school began since many pediatricians see more teens than usual for their annual check ups, Joseph said.

During the two days of training, Joseph and Fallucco lectured on screening tools and in-office treatments for mental health problems. Pediatricians then rehearsed what they learned in one-on-one scenarios with FAU medical student volunteers. The team received feedback from both the pediatricians and volunteers participating, Joseph said.

“We talk about burnout and people losing hope, but it was truly amazing to see everyone coming together to do this in such a short amount of time,” Joseph said.

The team received positive feedback from the participants immediately after the trainings. Three months post-training, a survey will be sent to pediatricians to ask them specifically if they are screening for more of those mental health problems and whether or not the training has helped them do so, Joseph said.

The trainings were recorded, and Joseph hopes to distribute the material to a larger audience of pediatricians across the state. The team will also use some of what was learned to expand it and provide similar training for close to 150 pediatricians through Healthy People 2020, an initiative started by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to promote better health.

Zach Xu, a 20-year-old UF finance junior graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2016.

“As far as the culture back home, everyone was pretty much traumatized by the shooting,” Xu said.

To Xu, mental health has always been important. While he’s happy that resources are being allocated to help those who have been affected by the shooting, he’d like to see these tragedies prevented altogether.

“It’s great that they’re starting to put such a large emphasis on training people to recognize these disorders that happen from such tragic events,” Xu said. “But they also shouldn’t be happening in the first place.”