University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: Orlando Massacre - Shock, Grief and Public Health Questions

Orlando Massacre - Shock, Grief and Public Health Questions


Senior Associate Dean Shirley A.A. Beresford issued the following statement in the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando:

Last Saturday night a mass shooting of horrendous proportions was inflicted by an individual at a night club in Orlando, Florida. As members of our larger Seattle community, and as School of Public Health staff, students and faculty, our shock and grief for the victims are quickly followed with questions.

How can we express solidarity with the victims? How can we bring about cultural change aligned with our values that “embraces and builds on diverse perspectives, beliefs, and cultures to promote public health”? How can we contribute to the effort to increase gun control? Although mental illness is neither necessary nor sufficient as a contributory factor, how can we do more to destigmatize mental illness, and to recognize the importance of mental health prevention (primary, secondary and tertiary)?

The answers to these questions will be different for each of us. I myself was privileged to participate, as a singer, in an “Interfaith Prayer Vigil in Solidarity and Hope" this week in which acceptance of differences, solidarity with the LGBTQ community, and an explicit call for control of “killing devices designed for the battlefield” occurred.

Several of our faculty are engaged in research that seeks to reduce death and injury from firearms. Frederick Rivara and Ali Rowhani-Rahbar are trying to fill the gaps in gun violence research. The results from their work will contribute to the evidence base that both policymakers and members of the public can use to better make decisions about gun violence.  This aligns with another of our SPH values, “Bring courage, passion, and perseverance to advance public health principles in policy discourse.”

The Orlando tragedy provides us with additional motivation for pressing for better prevention and treatment of mental illness. Several of our faculty are involved with this work too, in collaborations across campus, for example through the Program on Global Mental Health.

Let’s continue to honor our mission, and stand by our SPH values, and intentionally and respectfully communicate with each other to gradually change our culture to truly embrace our differences, celebrate our diversity, and promote public health.

Shirley A.A. Beresford
Senior Associate Dean
Professor of Epidemiology
UW School of Public Health