School PR, trauma, and social media: When it’s just too much

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School PR pros may not be paramedics, victim services or law enforcement, but we’re among the growing list of professionals who could be affected by vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout.

We’re among the first to respond in our districts. We work with senior officials, social workers, police and administrators to support staff and family well-being. We hear, and must process, the most difficult, traumatic and unimaginable situations that our families experience.

And it’s not just the issues in our local communities that take a toll on our well-being; in our roles, we’re also confronted with national and international tragedies that unfold before our eyes.

After the tragic death of 17 students in Parkland, Florida, we’ve seen a rise in student voice and protest. We’re seeing the revictimization of those telling their stories about gun violence in the hopes these events never happen again.

Last month in Saskatchewan, a bus carrying members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team collided with a semi-trailer truck, killing 16 people and injuring 13. Later in April, a man driving a van through Toronto intentionally killed 10 pedestrians – one of whom was an employee of the Toronto District School Board.


The social anxiety of these topics permeates the psyche of our society, in our schools – and 24-7 on social media.

In school PR, like it or not, these are conversations we must navigate daily because we know these impact the well-being of our students, staff and communities.

Our profession requires us to constantly be connected and available. We must be on top of current events, news and social media – both our own school system’s conversations and monitoring in general.

We must analyze and gauge the pulse of our communities to support parents as they have conversations at home and equip teachers with resources to care for students who are emotionally impacted.

Nonstop coverage of traumatic events can cause us to feel traumatized, even if we were not directly impacted by the trauma or tragedy. Social media takes this dynamic to a whole new level.

It’s critical that we, as a professional network, take care of each other. We must recognize and support one another when the weight of our work is too heavy to bear.

Self-care strategies to try:

  • Take a break from watching the media
  • Recharge with family and friends
  • Talk to your director or superintendent when you’re feeling drained
  • Be social. Or don’t – that’s okay!
  • Set boundaries
  • Get outside
  • Disconnect from electronics when you can
  • Eat well, stay active, treat yourself and get rest!

It’s time that we wrap a ring of empathy around our professional network. It’s when we take notice of our own mental health that we’re able to help others heal and recognize that – in all this tragedy – the human spirit will prevail.

6 Replies to “School PR, trauma, and social media: When it’s just too much”

  1. I agree in our field it is important that you take time to disconnect from technology. In my house we are going to start a new thing called no technology tuesday where on Tuesdays after work we are going to use no technology (I am ok if there is something that comes up for work and has to be done right away then so be it). I am looking forward to connect more with family and finding no tech things to do.

  2. Thank you for a well-written piece and recognition of ways to cope. From experience, the tragedies and victims will be with us always, and never more so on anniversary dates. We all learn to cope and manage the best we can, and never should be too proud to seek professional help to make sense of the senseless. Keep the faith.

  3. There is no more important message for our profession today. Thank you for your courage and leadership in this discussion!

  4. We’ve had so many unusual tragedies this year. I’m a one-person shop for school communications, like many in our state. I’m now deployed with our district’s Crisis Counseling team to sites when trouble strikes, because we inevitably land in local media, or to help the site admins with their communications. The blessing in this is that after a day or days of taking care of others, we all take time to support each other on the team as well. I love my district and I love how caring everyone is.

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