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Twenty-five years ago this month, a tragic event occurred that seemed to forever shift our culture: the mass shooting at Columbine High School. TCU psychology instructor Nur Cayirdag spoke to TCU News about how the event has impacted our society and where we find ourselves today.  

Could you share with us what you see as far as how we as a society deal with and process these sorts of tragedies now compared to 25 years ago? nur
Back then, it seemed like the news was all about the shooters, and it felt kind of overwhelming. But today, we are focusing more on the people affected, like the victims and survivors, which feels more respectful and balanced. The conversation around mental health has definitely improved. We're recognizing the importance of supporting children, teachers, parents and society who are struggling and making more resources available. Overall, I think we're making progress. 

Unfortunately, we have had many school shootings since Columbine. But the world has changed in other ways too. It is now a post 9/11 world, social media has now infiltrated our lives, etc. How have these sorts of changes impacted us psychologically when it comes to this sort of tragedy? 
You’re absolutely right; the world has changed a lot since Columbine. We've had events like 9/11, and social media has become a huge part of our lives. After 9/11, there's been this feeling of always being on alert. We might feel more suspicious or worried about potential threats, even in places where we used to feel safe. These changes have affected how we feel psychologically when tragedies like school shootings happen. With social media, we're constantly connected to news and information. When we hear about a school shooting, it feels like it’s happening right next door, which can make us feel more scared and anxious about our safety. But on the bright side, social media can also be a place for support and coming together. People can share their stories, offer help and call for change. It’s a way to show that we're not alone and that we can make a difference.  

This is a hard question to ask, but do we as a society now have a desensitization to school shootings? 
It’s a tough question indeed, but an important one to consider. In some ways, yes, it does seem like there's a desensitization to school shootings in society today. With the frequency of these tragic events and the constant media coverage, it’s almost like they’ve become normalized. When we hear about another school shooting, it’s easy to feel a sense of resignation or numbness because it feels like it’s just another day in the news cycle. This desensitization can be concerning because it might make us less motivated to take action to prevent them from happening again. However, it’s important to recognize that desensitization doesn’t mean we don't care. It’s more about how our brains cope with overwhelming and distressing information. We might put up a mental barrier to protect ourselves from feeling too much pain or sadness every time we hear about another tragedy. 

qaWhat about the difference in age groups? A traditional TCU student today grew up with this. Many faculty and staff, for instance, experienced this as an adult. How does that change our perspective? 
That's a really insightful observation. Age difference definitely influences how we perceive and respond to tragedies like school shootings. For traditional college students today, school shootings have been a part of their reality for as long as they can remember. It’s like it has always been there, which can make them feel more used to it but also maybe more wary. On the other hand, for faculty and staff who experienced school shootings as adults, their perspective may be different. They might remember a time when these incidents were less frequent or even unheard of, which could make each new shooting feel more shocking and upsetting. They might also feel a greater sense of responsibility for ensuring the safety of their students and colleagues. 

In trying to look for a positive, do you feel like this event had a hand in impacting more acknowledgment to mental health issues? 
Definitely! It’s important to look for the positives, even in tough situations like this. And yes, the Columbine shooting did bring some positive changes, especially when it comes to mental health awareness. After Columbine, people started talking more openly about mental health. We realize that there are often mental health issues behind these tragic events. So, now there is more focus on understanding and supporting people who are struggling. There are also more resources available for mental health support, especially in schools. We are starting to break down the stigma around mental health. More people are feeling okay to talk about their feelings and get the help they need without feeling judged. 

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