Feeling vulnerable after shootings? It's normal, experts say

Editor's note: This story was originally published June 22.

Nearly every time Matt Jenrick goes out in public lately, he's got his guard up.

When he exits his condo in Oak Park, drives to work in Schaumburg or sits in an airport, he's always thinking in the back of his mind that something heinous could occur without warning.

“There's always a sense of, who's upset today? Who's going to snap and exact revenge and take out all of their anger on the general public? I don't think anyone's out to get me, but there's a sense that the world is not a happy place any longer, and people are looking for someone to blame,” he said. “It feels like ... you always need to be on guard, and kind of looking around.”

Given the horrors of recent mass shootings and terrorist attacks, it's a common and normal feeling, suburban doctors say.

Psychiatrist Dr. J. Richard Gallagher, of Presence Mercy Medical Center in Aurora, said several of his patients expressed fear recently about being shooting victims. Others are just generally uneasy out in public or in crowds, he said.

“Clients are saying they're not feeling safe,” Gallagher said. “After a while, what can happen is, they can't think positively anymore. It's when it gets past normal and starts interfering with their functioning that it's a problem.”

While it might make some people feel more vulnerable, other suburban residents say last week's Orlando attack hasn't raised their fear level at all — and that they will carry on as they always do.

“I'm not worried about it,” said Laura Mohrland, of Rolling Meadows. “I feel like out here in the suburbs, we're less of a target.”

Statistically, the odds of a mass shooting or terrorist attack in the suburbs, or anywhere, are very small. But suburban police and security experts say it'd be naive to think it couldn't happen here.

“It's not an irrational fear,” said Hanover Park Police Chief David Webb, president of the DuPage County Chiefs of Police Association. “But these incidents shouldn't change the way you live your life.”

Brent O'Bryan, a Wheaton native and vice president of AlliedBarton Security Services, which has an office in Naperville, said ever since 9/11 the company has had a steady stream of clients who want their employees trained on what to do during a workplace emergency.

Their teachings include the “Run, Hide, Fight” techniques recommended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“If they have some training ... then when emergency situations come up, they will know what to do,” O'Bryan said. “You don't want to become overly anxious in life, but you also don't want to think it's never going to happen here. You want to be in the middle of those two.”

The key to not letting fear consume you is to break down the thought process, said Peter Wink, of Schaumburg, who has spent years studying fear and leads “Getting clear of FEAR” lectures around the Chicago area.

Wink says to start by asking, “Why should you be fearful?” and “Where is the fear coming from?” For example, someone who's nervous to go to a crowded tourist attraction for fear of an attack should examine how many years the place has been open, how many people walk through there every day, how many shooting incidents have taken place there in its history — and that should help the person rationalize how statistically unlikely it is that something will happen there.

“Fear is nothing but an emotion,” Wink said. “Most people I talk to still understand that something like a shooting in a nightclub, while hideous, is not likely to happen to them.”

Dr. Patrick McGrath, who runs the anxiety program at the Center for Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders at AMITA Health Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in Hoffman Estates, said most people he's talked to are more worried about their children than themselves.

Years ago, people would hear news like the Orlando shootings on the television that the whole family watched together, but now, most people learn about horrific crimes when they're alone on their cellphones or computers. Without support immediately at hand, the news is a little harder to handle, he said. Social media and the 24/7 news cycle also can create a powerful collective fear, he added.

“The downside of this, over time, is that we just accept all of this,” McGrath said. “At first we're really reactive, then angry, and then there's a complacency that it's just the way the world is.”

Gallagher says complacency and withdrawals are not good ways to deal with anxiety or fear.

“The news is the reality,” he said. “You have to deal with it and face it. You can't change those events, but you can change your approach to them.”

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<b>Local experts offer ways to ease your mind and keep yourself and your family safe.</b><b>• Have a plan. </b>Plan what you'd do if someone started shooting in your office or any other place where you spend time. See the Department of Homeland Security's video, “Run, Hide, Fight” at <a href=""></a>.

First, get out of the area as quickly as possible. If you can't run, plan where you could hide. After someone has called 911, turn off lights and silence cellphones. As a last resort, think of how you could fight the attacker.

• Do research.

It can calm your fears to see how many people visit a place safely every year. It will help you realize the odds are low that anything will happen.

• Turn off the TV.

Consuming bad news 24/7 can give you the false and upsetting impression that this is the only thing going on in the world. It's not.

• Be aware

Know who and what are around you. If something or someone is making you uncomfortable, report it to police and leave the area.

• If you see something, say something.

Report suspicious people or activities. If you know of a person who sympathizes with or praises terrorist groups, let police know.

Source: Daily Herald reports

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