After the tragic events in Istanbul’s Ataturk airport this week, we asked our own trauma expert Professor Neil Greenberg about how people caught up in terrorist incidents might cope afterwards, and anything they can or should do in the aftermath to ensure their own mental wellbeing.
As well as running March on Stress, Professor Greenberg is the current President of the UK Psychological Trauma Society, Professor of Defence Mental Health at King’s College London and has written more than 190 scientific papers on trauma, PTSD and mental health.
Professor Greenberg said: “Our thoughts are with all of those affected in this latest incident in Turkey, as well as with those affected by incidents that have taken place around the world in recent times. It’s a common misconception that counsellors and alike should be drafted in at the earliest opportunity following a traumatic incident such as a terrorist act. In fact, in the early stages of a traumatic incident – i.e. in the first month or so – the vast majority of people do not need trauma counselling or psychological debriefing and evidence shows that they are actually more likely to be damaged by it than they are to be helped.
“Most people benefit from access to good social support, which comes from all the sources you and I would normally use and trust – our friends, our colleagues, our work mates, maybe our GP, maybe a spiritual leader. But having outsiders come in, particularly if they were 'forced upon you' – people suggesting counselling rather than you going to get it – is a really bad idea.
“If beyond these initial stages, a month of more after an incident, you are continuing to experience traumatic symptoms – perhaps increased anxiety, difficulty sleeping, using alcohol to get through the day – then it’s important at this point to seek professional help ideally from your GP, who will be able to recommend treatment or support as needed.
“There are a number of proven, evidence-based therapies that can help the small proportion of people who may go on to experience continuing traumatic symptoms, including Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). An appropriately trained and experienced medical professional will be able to advise on these and the options available to you.
“The important message is that it’s perfectly normal to experience traumatic symptoms in the aftermath of an incident, and you should seek support from your friends and family or others you trust, but symptoms should ease with time and if continuing beyond a month, that’s when I’d urge you to seek professional support.”
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