The Boston Marathon Horror.
By now most of you would have seen the horrific images of what happened in Boston. As a doctor, I am aware about the negative effect this may have on you and your family. Like you, I am also severely disturbed and negatively effected by this. We all have to deal with it in our own way. We live in a world of instant information, and multiple cameras, mobiles and sources of information, so that any disaster is instantly shared around the world. This has a very unhealthy effect on those that view these images, and none of it any good – depression, PSTD, sadness, alienation, anger and worse – now imagine if you are a child, and what the effect this would have on you.
When we lived in villages, minus TV and 24 hour news media, we did not have to cope with any of this. Here are some ways to help cope with horrors like this, and others that will inevitably happen in the future:
Limit your exposure.
We are seeing the same images again and again. We do not need to see the twin towers in New York disintegrating hundreds of times. Once is enough. Take a break after one viewing and disengage. For younger children, restrict this as much as possible. For older kids, this may not be possible as they have mobiles and internet connections, so this leads to the next tip:
Find out what kids know.
Talking to your own children, will surprise you as to how much they know. However, the information may not be accurate so talking to them about it may help you to correct misinfomation. After 9/11. some children thought that hundreds of buildings had fallen down, because they had seen the images of buildings falling down replayed ad nauseum. So asking kids what they know helps to clarify misconceptions.
Remind kids, and yourself, of the good in the world. Blood and explosions may make more sensational images, but they should not overshadow the countless acts of kindness and heroism that follows these disasters. Such goodness was clearly on display in Boston, with ordinary people rushing in to help those severely injured, even in the face of bombs going off around them. We saw many examples of this in the floods in Queensland, and the fires in Victoria a few years ago. These axamples are not the exception but the norm. In adversity and tragedy, we help each other, and rarely respond with panic, recklessness or selfishness. The human propensity for compassion is a real, deep and even defining part of our nature.
A quote from Fred ” Mister ” Rogers resonates today
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother
would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who
are helping.” To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember
my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are
still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.
Identify ways you can take action and help.
Terrorist attacks and other acts of violence can make us feel powerless and see the world as evil. One of the hardest things for us psychologically about an attack like the one in Boston is that we don’t have any explanation for it—we don’t know the perpetrators, the motive, anything. The excess of images combined with a dearth of explanations might be very distressing for adults and children
An empowering response is to find ways we can help other people. This could mean doing something to benefit victims in Bundaberg, like going up to help rebuild the town, or money, or clothes, or making a donation to the Red Cross. But even lending a hand to someone in your own community could improve your mental health, by reaffirming your own efficacy and your ability to make a positive impact on the world. A great deal of research backs this up, as Meredith Maran has reported in her Greater Good article on the “activism cure.”
While yesterday’s events were terrifying and heartbreaking, and the resulting images can feel overwhelming, the work by Houston and other researchers shows how it’s possible for adults and kids alike to respond with resilience. For more tips, I suggest reading:
- The Terrorism and Disaster Center’s fact sheets for parents and for teachers and school staff;
- The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s useful links for coping with violence and traumatic events;
- And mental health professionals may want to check out the information on trauma and PTSD put out by the National Center for PTSD.
Ideas and quotes from the Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.