Here are ways to help students navigate three levels of trauma they may experience as a result of community violence

How instructors can help students with trauma due to Iran’s human rights crisis

Here are ways to help students navigate three levels of trauma they may experience as a result of community violence

“Woman, Life and Freedom”: This slogan has been the foundation of an all-women’s movement in Iran to change the oppressive rules dictating women’s choices in this country. The movement was ignited on September 2022 by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an Iranian Kurd. She was taken into custody by the Iranian morality police for not wearing her head scarf (known as a hijab) to their satisfaction. While in custody, Mahsa Amini suffered extensive injuries inflicted by the police, causing her death.

Since then, there have been national and international demonstrations to bring attention to the injustices affecting not only Iranian women but also the Iranian youth, who have suffered immensely and lost their lives in pursuit of basic freedom and fundamental human rights. With over 500 deaths of innocent people and over 15,000 political prisoners, it has been a tumultuous trauma for the individuals experiencing and witnessing the recent events.

As Iranian-American higher education faculty and licensed mental health clinicians, we bring this to your attention as these are challenging times not only in Iran, but also globally. We understand this situation, as well as similar events happening globally and locally, may be causing distress, anxiety, survivor guilt, and other emotions in our community. These events have personally impacted us as we try to balance everyday life and navigate being present for clients, students, and colleagues while managing our own triggers, trauma, and survival guilt.

From the mental health perspective of assessing the current events, we recognize the multiple levels of trauma our community experiences: primary, secondary and vicarious traumas. Trauma interconnects on many psychosocial levels and does not discriminate based on one’s social location, which can be understood as intersecting factors including, but not limited to culture, history, race, gender, sexual orientation, and language.

In this article, we will address three levels of trauma that individuals may experience as a result of community violence: primary, secondary, and vicarious. According to the World Health Organization, Trauma is exposure to an incident or series of emotionally disturbing or life-threatening events with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, and/or spiritual well-being. 

Secondary Trauma stress is the emotional response experienced when an individual hears about a first-hand trauma one has endured. An example of this would be to listen to an individual describe the loss of their loved one and be emotionally impacted by it, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Vicarious trauma refers to a third level of exposure when an individual is exposed to witnessing or hearing traumatic events that are not directly related to themselves. They, however, experience adverse emotional reactions toward these events. An example would be watching the news or monitoring social media and witnessing someone’s murder, an example cited by the U.S. Office of Victims of Crime.

Response and Coping with Trauma

General responses to trauma are feelings of anger, sadness, grief, depression, social isolation, anxiety, etc. Individuals have trouble concentrating and sleeping and may continually think about or view social media occurrences. These are normal and expected responses, and generally, these symptoms become less intense and subside over time, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

If these symptoms continue to cause functional impairment and exacerbate, please seek professional mental health care. Otherwise, individuals can exercise coping skills to support their own mental and physical well-being by identifying triggers and prioritizing self-care. Instructors can feel free to share these tools with students experiencing trauma.

Tools for preserving physical health:

  • Spend time going outdoors and engaging in exercise or other physical activities
  • Remember to eat well and get enough sleep
  • Spending quality time with supportive individuals
  • Avoiding alcohol and drug consumption

Tools for reinforcing mental health:

  • Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques
  • Setting boundaries and realistic goals
  • Recording one’s thoughts and feelings by keeping a journal and compose a gratitude list
  • Seeking therapy if professional assistance is required

People experiencing trauma and anxiety may find relief through a wide range of activities. Those who find physical activities to be mentally restorative may benefit from something as simple as going for a walk, or as elaborate as keeping plans for a vacation. Activities like enjoying music, spending time in nature, volunteering and spiritual fellowship can be beneficial. Additional alternatives including art, aromatherapy, practicing hobbies or caring for pets can also provide emotional and psychological comforts.

Human relationships are also important. Finding time for family, calling friends, and even keeping plans for dates can help people experiencing emotional stress. At work and school, it’s good to remember to take regular breaks and engage in teamwork and playful interactions with colleagues.

The events occurring in Iran are not only troubling to the Iranian-American population. We as a community are all interconnected through basic human rights and lived experiences, and current events anywhere in the world can impact individuals differently. It is critical that we recognize the power of “Holistic Healing,” which is to transform and nurture the community by creating connection and support.

Please extend to yourself and your Iranian-American colleagues, peers, and students compassion, grace, and space to process the possible impacts of the recent events.

Recommended resources:

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Crisis counselors are available at all times, and free of charge, to assist anyone who is in the midst of a suicidal crisis or undergoing emotional distress. Counselors can be contacting by calling or texting 988, or via online live chat at

The NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) HelpLine is accessible Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET by calling 800-950-NAMI (6264), texting “HelpLine” to 62640 or sending an email to

Veterans Crisis Line: Veterans, as well as people worried for a veteran in their lives, can seek assistance at any time of the day. Services are available by telephone at 800-273-8255 (callers should press “1” after dialing), by text at 838255, or by using the online live chat.

The Jed Foundation, focused on emotional health and suicide prevention for teenagers and young adults, offers a relevant guide, “How to cope with traumatic events.”

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