On June 12, the nation was shaken again by yet another mass shooting. This time, a gunman opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, taking the lives of 49 people.
Although Jessica Hughes lives in Tennessee, she has been personally affected by this tragedy. She planned to travel to Orlando this weekend for a Cirque du Soleil performance, and sought our help obtaining a credit or a refund for her tickets.
She is not particularly afraid of another attack on Orlando. But she has a more personal reason for canceling her trip.
“I found out this morning that my nephew, Brandon — very affected by the events in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and struggling with depression — committed suicide yesterday,” she says. “He was at Disney Springs just days ago, and posted that he would have been at that club if not for his Air Force obligations in Rhode Island. He was only 21 years old.”
In her email to our advocacy team, Hughes questioned whether writing to us was the right thing to do, but said she was too distraught to call the company herself. “Needless to say, going to the Orlando area, and particularly Disney Springs, will not happen for us this weekend.”
This case raises many questions. How flexible should companies be in the face of a tragedy? Is it time to take another look at all the mental illness exclusions for travel insurance? And what can we do about this case?
Before our advocacy team could intervene, Hughes informed us that she ended up contacting the Cirque du Soleil box office, which is run by the Walt Disney World Resort. The company made an exception to its policy and issued a refund of her tickets.
Hughes was only seeking a credit to use on a future date, but the company, sensitive to the loss suffered by Hughes and in light of the larger tragedy in Orlando, decided to issue a full refund.
We are deeply sorry for the immeasurable loss that Hughes and her family has suffered. We don’t know a lot about Hughes’ nephew, except that he was suffering from depression so severely that he made the devastating decision to end his life.
Hughes’ story is a sad reminder that incidents of mass murder can leave an impression on people far from the event’s epicenter, particularly the young and vulnerable. The events undoubtedly have an effect on the American psyche, to varying degrees. Many Americans feel helpless following mass shooting events, in particular because nothing specific happens to prevent them in the future.
In situations like Hughes’ case, companies need to be flexible with their rigid policies, and show compassion for those who have experienced loss. When companies offer refunds following the death of a loved one, it usually only applies to immediate family members. But In the case of Cirque du Soleil, the company has a strict no-refund policy, which it was willing to look beyond in light of this tragedy.
Maureen Underwood, Executive Director of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, says that these events have an effect on us all, in different ways.
“There are segments of the population who are more affected than others,” she told me. “These include people who identify with the targeted group — in this instance LGBT people and those who are involved in their lives — as well as people who might identity with the perpetrator and people who are reminded of their own traumatic experiences by some aspect of what happened here. There certainly can also be idiosyncratic circumstances that impact a person’s reactions.”
Underwood says younger children tend to respond to how those around them act. But when children identify with the targeted group or live in a geographic area close to the event, where the media coverage and discussion of the event is more intense, they will be more affected than other children. “We certainly saw this with kids in the N.Y. metropolitan area following September 11,” she adds.
If you are concerned about someone who may be having suicidal thoughts, the good news is there are many resources available to help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) is a 24/7 hotline that puts callers in touch with local resources. The Trevor Project has excellent online resources for LGBT youth struggling with depression.
Underwood says the most effective resource, though, may be each and every one of us. “If we hear someone expressing ideas or feelings that suggest despair and hopelessness, rather than change the subject or try to cheer them up, simply ask directly: ‘You sound really down. Tell me more about it.'”
In addition to the resources above, UnitedHealth is offering free mental health counseling to anyone, insured or not, following the Orlando shooting. And Facebook just released its own suicide prevention tools, all aimed at getting people the help they need.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).