Terrorist attacks are intended to cause physical and psychological harm. In an age when horrific images of events are immediately broadcast across the nation, many more people than were involved will suffer psychological harm.
The tragedies unfolding attack the national psyche, and naturally can cause children and adults to be confused, afraid, angry, or even feel powerless. It is important to acknowledge these feelings but not get stuck in them. People who have suffered trauma in the past are especially vulnerable, and should consider reaching out to a mental health professional.
Most Americans can fight the feelings of anxiousness, loss and confusion by staying calm and doing what they can to connect with and reassure their friends, family, neighbors and co-workers.
In extreme instances, tragedies can trigger, or retrigger, an extremely debilitating condition called post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD can occur after exposure to a terrifying even or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. People with PTSD can experience emotional numbness and sleep disturbances, anxiety, and irritability or outbursts of anger.
People who are exposed to trauma-even repeated news coverage of traumatic events can experience elements of PTSD without having the full blown disorder.
For this reason, children's viewing of media images should be limited, and special care should be taken to talk with children and adolescents about their feelings and thoughts following this tragedy. Sometimes, in response to children's questions, adults can reassure them that they are safe and give information that is appropriate to the child's age and maturity.
Helping Children Handle Disaster-Related Anxiety
Children sense the anxiety and tension in adults around them. And, like adults, children experience the same feelings of helplessness and lack of control that disasters can bring about.
Unlike adults, however, children have little experience to help them place their current problems into perspective.
Each child responds differently to disasters, depending on his or her understanding and maturity, but it's easy to see how an event like this can create a great del of anxiety in children of all ages because they will interpret the disaster as a personal danger to themselves and those they care about.
Whatever the child's age or relationship to the damage caused by disaster, it's important that you be open about the consequences for your family, and that you encourage him or her to talk about it.
Quick tips for parents:
- Children need comforting and frequent reassurance that they're safe--make sure they get it.
- Be honest and open about the disaster, but keep information age-appropriate
- Encourage children to express their feelings through talking, drawing or playing
- Try to maintain your daily routines as much as possible.
- For more information, call the National Mental Health Association at 1-800-969-6642.
Source: Mental Health Association of Mississippi