Many citizens from the Merrimack Valley were directly affected by the recent bombings at the Boston Marathon. Many more were indirectly impacted as they stood by as innocent “emotional hostages” the following week waiting for news that the imminent danger and threat was thwarted.
Fortunately, this happened without incurring tremendous collateral damage to civilians once the alleged criminals were captured by our brave public safety officials. Enough cannot be said for the officers who risked life and limb in their duty to “protect and serve.”
Shock and numbness is a normal response to the traumatic event, which serves the purpose of allowing us to cope in the immediate aftermath. Lately, the shock is beginning to wear off as we “thaw out” and many citizens are now struggling with a number of new emotions and reactions.
In addition to caring for ourselves first, it is important to be aware of our children, our most vulnerable population. This past week, many parents have expressed that their children are exhibiting signs of fear, loneliness, and confusion. At the core of these signs is the feeling that they do not feel “safe.”
The question of “why” is on the minds of many, as healthy children and adults cannot wrap their head around the idea that there are people living among us who want to cause harm to others. We somehow believe if we can answer the “why”, we can prevent it from happening again. How parents answer the question is a personal one based on their own values, thoughts and opinions.
What the Trauma Intervention Program of Merrimack Valley (TIP) can offer are suggestions on how to help adults and children struggling with these reactions as we aim to prevent longer term consequences of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Not everyone who experiences a trauma will develop PTSD. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 3.5 percent of the U.S. adult population has PTSD. Offering quality support after the event can help minimize PTSD prevalence. Some initial signs to be aware of include: flashbacks and intrusive recollections; nightmares, either of the event or of other frightening things; intense anxiety and distress when reminded of the trauma; avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind one of the trauma; feeling detached from others and emotionally numb; irritability or outbursts of anger; difficulty concentrating and hypervigilance — being on constant “red alert.”
The Trauma Intervention Program of Merrimack Valley offers effective ways of coping after a traumatic event.
Accept that you may be a victim and be aware if others do not validate your feelings or minimize them, it may make you feel more pain.
Accept all the feelings you are having as normal. The event is crazy not you.
If you experience guilt, it may help to: accept it as a normal response under the circumstances; talk to supportive and understanding people about your role during the event; recognize and focus on what you did “right” during and after the event; recognize the extenuating circumstances as sudden, dangerous, and unexpected.
For family, friends and coworkers: Listen carefully without judging or criticizing. Give private time as requested. Avoid phrases like: “you are lucky it wasn’t worse”, “ I know how you feel”, “there must have been a reason” or “you can have other children, pets, etc.” These are not comforting and can make someone feel worse.
Children are traumatized by a wide variety of events which include, but are not limited to: natural disasters, crime, auto accidents, serious illness, community violence, hostage situations, violence in the home and the death of a parent or loved one.
Parents play a vital role in their child’s successful recovery from a traumatic event. The following are ways parents can help their child after a traumatic event:
Reassure your child that he or she will be taken care of, loved and cherished just as they were before the traumatic event.
Nurture your child. Children who have been traumatized need physical contact. Cuddling, rocking, massaging and reading quietly help relieve stress and anxiety.
Pay special attention at bedtime. Nighttime is particularly difficult for traumatized children. It may help to read to your child, rub their back, play music and leave a light on.
For assistance or to register for our upcoming June TIP training call Dr. Jayan Landry at 978-474-1941.
Dr. Jayan Landry is CEO and executive director of the Trauma Intervention Program of Merrimack Valley Inc.