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7/20 Committee offers mental health resources for those traumatized by James Holmes hearing

A preliminary hearing for James Holmes, the accused Aurora theater shooter, concluded today, and numerous victims and members of the public were on site to watch. A lot of reporters were there, too, taking notes on the horrific details of the July 20 shooting -- and given the chilling testimony, survivors can be re-traumatized. That's why one Aurora group is making efforts to promote local mental health services.

"There are a lot of new details coming forward and it's gonna be pretty tough," says Karen Morales, a spokeswoman for the 7/20 Recovery Committee, an ad hoc group of Aurora officials and civic leaders that formed after the July massacre. "One of the important messages to get out...is that there is...counseling available."

A prayer group on July 20, the morning after the tragedy.
A prayer group on July 20, the morning after the tragedy.
Sam Levin

As we reported last month, the 7/20 Committee recently launched an interactive website designed to help those struggling with trauma in the aftermath of the movie theater shooting. The site, aurorastrong.bluesunsupport.com, is based on similar tools that have been launched around the country after large tragedies to support those working through trauma.

The committee, which last year faced criticisms related to the disbursement of donations to victims' families, is now promoting the new website again this week and doing outreach work so that those affected by the shooting are aware of available services.

Studies show that six to nine months after a terrible event like this, the effects of traumatic stress usually peak, says Morales. Given that it has been six months since the shooting, the 7/20 Committee wants to make sure resources are available to those that need them.

"This is really significant timing to have the preliminary hearing right around the six-month time-frame," she says. "People are very aware of the impact new details can have.

"After six months...people have had the chance to process and maybe for the first time are realizing they have been bothered for quite a long period."

With mass homicides like Columbine, the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut last month and other high-profile cases, the perpetrator or perpetrators often do not survive. But because Holmes is alive, the events of July 20 must be retraced in sometimes very graphic detail in court. As we've been reporting in real-time, this week, law enforcement officers have given emotional testimony about the bloodshed at the theater that night and disturbing 911 calls that captured the sound of gunshots were played in court.

Family members of one of the fatal victims of the theater shooting speak to reporters last month.
Family members of one of the fatal victims of the theater shooting speak to reporters last month.
Sam Levin

There is free counseling available at the Aurora Mental Health Center for survivors, those who were evacuated from James Holmes' apartment, first responders and family members impacted, says Morales, who has a background in communication crisis and raised her children in Aurora. She used to take her kids to the Century 16 theater, the site of the massacre, which is reopening this month.

Individuals can call 303-617-2300, a line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to get in touch with a trained counselor and schedule an appointment, she says.

Continue for more details on available resources.

In addition, Morales says she is encouraging people to check out the committee's new website.

Since the site launched, around fifteen percent of visitors have come back multiple times, meaning they likely created logins and are working through the process outlined in the site, she says.

A scene from the first Aurora vigil on July 20.
A scene from the first Aurora vigil on July 20.
Sam Levin

"We really want people to be aware that this is yet one more tool in the toolbox to help them understand what traumatic stress is about," says Morales. "This is an ideal avenue for the average person to just learn more about what post-traumatic stress is and help identify whether they're going through that or maybe somebody that they know is going through that."

Here's the full alert the 7/20 Committee sent out, which offers signs of post-traumatic stress and information on available resources.

INTERACTIVE SITE, ONGOING COUNSELING AVAILABLE TO HELP PEOPLE

WORK THROUGH TRAUMATIC STRESS CAUSED BY JULY 20 THEATER SHOOTING

AURORA -- Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 -- With the preliminary hearing set to begin today, our community will tackle the next step in overcoming the tragic events that occurred on July 20, 2012 - the pursuit of justice. As we face this critically important step, it is important to recognize that, for many, this process will bring painful details of this crime to the forefront.

Following a tragedy like the July 20 theater shooting, it is very common to experience stressful side effects that can impact day-to-day life.

"Knowing the common signs of traumatic stress can help you spot those who may be impacted by the event and not even know it yet," said Karen Morales, spokesperson for the 7/20 Recovery Committee. "Learn to recognize these signs in friends, family members, colleagues -- and even yourself -- so you can get connected with the services available in our community to help."

Common signs of post-traumatic stress include:

· Trouble sleeping

· Nightmares or flashbacks

· Difficulty concentrating

· Change in appetite or sleep patterns

· Feelings of fear or anxiety

· Irritability, moodiness or feeling numb

· Withdrawing from friends or family

Reminders of a traumatic event, such as thoughts, smells, sounds and certain locations, can bring someone back to that place and time - whether or not they were physically present. Media coverage of the event, in particular, can trigger these reminders. Recognizing the signs above and reaching out to manage these feelings or talk to someone are the key to preventing more serious health issues, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

"One of the many things we have learned about trauma recovery since July 20 is the extent to which additional events -whether ongoing media coverage of a criminal trial, another tragic event or the stress of the holiday season - can trigger re-traumatization," said Morales."It's important for each of us to recognize the signs of traumatic stress and to know where to find information and assistance."

Recognizing the signs of traumatic stress and finding ways to manage that stress are essential to preventing more serious health problems and moving forward in the healing process. If you or anyone you know is currently dealing with any of these signs of stress, reach out to the following resources:

Visit aurorastrong.bluesunsupport.com, for an interactive, individual skill-building experience that teaches people specific skills they can use to help overcome the trauma created by events such as the July 20 theater shooting. The site offers detailed information about trauma, what it is, how it affects each person differently, how trauma recovery works and very specific ways people can aid in their own recovery.

Call 303-617-2300 24 hours a day, seven days a week or visit www.aumhc.org to speak with a trained counselor.

If you or a family member was present at the theater or evacuated from the Paris Street apartments on July 20, 2012 and would like to speak with a victim advocate, call 800-261-2682 or visit www.coloradocrimevictims.org.

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "Aurora victim's father will return to theater: "He would want me to be there""

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.