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Mental health and coping in the aftermath of a terrorist incident

Added on the 23rd May 2017

After the terrible events in Manchester last night, Professor Neil Greenberg is offering advice about coping in the aftermath of a terrorist incident.

Professor Greenberg said: “This latest incident is truly heart-breaking and our thoughts are with everyone involved, including the heroic emergency services.

“In the early stages of a traumatic incident – i.e. in the first month or so – the vast majority of people do not need professional help such as trauma counselling or psychological debriefing. The evidence into such techniques suggests that not only are they not likely to help most people, they may actually cause harm.

“Most people benefit from access to good social support, which comes from all the sources you and I would normally use and trust – our families, friends, colleagues, 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 not a good 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 cope – 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.

“The important message is that it’s perfectly normal to experience traumatic symptoms in the immediate aftermath of an incident, and you should seek support from your friends and family or others you trust. Initial distress symptoms should ease with time and if they are still problematic beyond a month or so, I’d urge you to seek professional support."

The Royal College of Psychiatrists also has the following advice available:

Responding to large scale traumatic events and acts of terrorism

Information about trauma and children

Information about trauma and adults

Professor Neil Greenberg is an internationally renowned trauma expert who is a past President of the UK Psychological Trauma Society and Secretary of the European Society of Traumatic Stress Studies.

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