RVMC expert offers advice on coping with Criado tragedy

In coping with a tragedy such as the Criado family slayings, the Medford community has an advantage because it's small and close-knit, but people have to realize the signs of their own trauma and know when and where to get help, said Dr. James Hammel, a psychiatrist with Rogue Valley Medical Center.

Hammel spoke Monday at a gathering of eight agencies who are available to help, especially for those fire, medical and police personnel who first responded to the West 10th Street slayings. A Medford man is suspected of stabbing his 30-year-old wife and two of his four children and setting the house on fire July 18, killing all but himself.

"We're a very tight community, so it affects us more profoundly," said Hammel, a specialist in the area of "tragedy psychiatry" with experience with 9/11 survivors. "It's easier to know people who are affected by it."

The Criado family slayings are "an incredible tragedy that made the community feel unsafe," he said, especially affecting those first responders and children, who have been asking for answers about what happened.

It's difficult for police, firefighters and other first responders to seek help, he said, because "they don't want to be identified as needing help."

"How do we know if tragedy is affecting us and how do we identify someone who is not coping well?" Hammel asked. "A lot of us in the caring services have had loss and developed resilience, but any trauma can expose us.

"It's a huge stress and brings a resurgence of pathologies and initiating triggers."

He added first responders may not recognize how significant a tragedy is and may find themselves really struggling.

Signs of poor coping are staying in bed, staying home from work, changes in behavior, sleeplessness, drinking, drugs, spending time alone rather than with family and friends, displays of anger, fighting with loved ones. The five stages of grief also can come into play, he said, including denial, bargaining with God and depression.

Hammel's audience of about 40 people was made up mostly of social service agencies, including the Children's Advocacy Center, Community Works, Jackson County Mental Health, United Way of Jackson County, RVMC Hospice, WinterSpring Center and a group of ministers.

People needing help may start with the websites of these agencies or contact United Way or Helpline, which will refer people to proper agencies, said United Way Executive Director Dee Anne Everson.

"It's especially important with kids home for the summer, to support them as quickly as possible," she said. "What kids want to know is: Do people love them and could this happen to them?

"Out of this tragedy comes our mission — and the message that this can't take away their dreams."

Children who ask about the tragedy don't want the details, which just confuse them without consoling them, Hammel said. They want to know they are loved — and the best way to show them that is to spend more time with them.

Those who see friends, family or colleagues not coping well with tragedy must find ways to support the good they are doing and the challenges they face, while at the same time asking them "straight up" how they are doing.

Good coping, Hammel said, is about taking care of yourself, sleeping, drinking plenty of fluids, keeping with your faith, exercising, spending time with family, doing yoga, volunteering and spending time with other people.

Our society, he said, "places an enormous stigma on getting help and we're a bizarre society in this regard; other countries are much less resistant about it. In this kind of situation, you should get therapy. It's very refreshing."

Responding to the group of ministers, who'd said it was hard to get people to come to them, Hammel advised them to keep their contact information and services before the public.

"When it's important to come to you, they will — and they need to know how to reach you."

Those needing referrals may call United Way at 541-773-5339 or HelpLine at 541-779-4357.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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