FedEx workers likely to suffer trauma, need support after mass shooting

Family and friends wait for word of their loved ones who were at the FedEx Ground facility during a shooting in Indianapolis, Thursday night, April 15, 2021. Multiple people were shot and killed in a late-night shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. (Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star via AP)

What appears to be the deadliest workplace shooting in Indiana history is likely to cause a wide range of effects on surviving employees at the FedEx Ground Operations Center, from shock and confusion to grief and depression.

Mental health counselors say it’s important for workers in such situations to get immediate and ongoing care to help them get through the trauma.

“Going back to that place of work is not going to be easy,” said Dr. Muhammad Munir, a Fishers psychiatrist and president of the Indiana Psychiatric Society. “Losing a friend, the guy who stood with you for the last 10 years on the packing line, is not going to be easy. And I’m sure we will be seeing a lot of people now seeking help, because they would have difficulty getting back to work.”

FedEx chairman and CEO Frederick W. Smith said the company will make counselors available to workers to help them get through the trauma.

“While it will take some time to fully understand what happened, we know we lost eight team members in this senseless act of violence,” Smith said in a written statement.

Police say a gunman killed eight FedEx employees Thursday night at the FedEx Ground Operations Center at 8951 Mirabel Road and then killed himself.

While many survivors of such incidents are resilient, others will need professional help to understand their reactions, which could range from irritability to severe anxiety.

“One of the first things you want to do is to reassure people that these are normal reactions to a very abnormal event,” said Heather Baumgardner, a licensed social worker at Ascension St. Vincent. “Having people connect with their friends, family and other support is just really essential at this time.”

The National Center for PTSD estimates that 28 percent of people who have witnessed a mass shooting develop post-traumatic stress disorder and about a third develop acute stress disorder, according to the American Psychological Association.

Research also suggests that mass shooting survivors may be at greater risk for mental health difficulties compared with people who experience other types of trauma, such as natural disasters, the association said in a 2018 paper.

Many workplaces routinely offer counseling and crisis support to workers who experience a traumatic event, such as a shooting. That support often entails helping workers identify and understand their reactions.

“It could be cognitive confusion, or maybe some hyper-vigilance, sometimes this kind of difficulty remembering things,” Baumgardner said. “Some people have very much of an emotional reaction when a trauma happens, and others have more of a behavioral thing. They might just kind of be withdrawn, are kind of irritable, or maybe just kind of, like, lose appetite, not be able to sleep well.”

Some counselors say friends and family members have a key role in offering support to people struggling to deal with a workplace shooting.

“Human beings, by nature, are resilient,” said Kimble Richardson, a licensed mental health counselor at Community Health Network. “But that also means we could use a little support, whether it’s professional help or peers in a crisis like this. Friends and family can be the best places to turn sometimes.”

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