OPPA extends its sympathies to those affected by the attacks on the OSU campus today
Columbus, Ohio – The Ohio Psychiatric Physicians Association (OPPA) expresses its deepest sympathies to all those affected by the attacks at The Ohio State University.
As the potential mental health impact of this event increases for our local communities, the OPPA offers tips and resources on how to minimize possible mental and emotional effects of trauma caused by the attack.
This tragedy can have a tremendous psychological impact on all those directly and indirectly affected. It is normal to experience a wide range of mental or emotional reactions, from sadness, stress and anxiety, to more severe mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder, ongoing anxiety disorders or depression.
“This is a very difficult time for everyone involved. Our immediate concerns are for the safety and well-being of those affected and volunteers who are helping with this tragedy,” said Alan Levy, MD, OPPA President. “Traumatic events affect survivors, emergency workers and the friends and relatives of victims who have been involved. As psychiatrists, we understand this situation may cause significant distress and pose potential threats to the mental health of all those involved. It is important for everyone to know that help is available and treatment does work.”
The OPPA and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) recommend following these steps for coping in the days following this traumatic event:
- Keep informed about new information and developments, but avoid overexposure to news rebroadcasts of the tragedy. Be sure to use credible information sources to avoid speculation and rumors.
- If you feel anxious, angry or sad, you are not alone. Talk to friends, family or peers who likely are experiencing the same feelings.
- If you have contact with children, keep open dialogues with them regarding their fears of danger. Talk about your ability to cope with tragedy and get through the ordeal.
- Feelings of anxiety and sadness following a traumatic event are natural. If these symptoms continue, even after order has been restored, or if these feelings begin to overwhelm you or your child, seek the advice of a psychiatric physician or other mental health professional in your local community.
Talking to Children about Traumatic Events:
Traumatic events such as this are not easy for anyone to comprehend or accept. Understandably, many young children feel frightened and confused. As parents, teachers and caring adults, we can best help by listening and responding in an honest, consistent and supportive manner. Fortunately, most children, even those exposed to trauma, are quite resilient. By creating an open environment where they feel free to ask questions, we can help them cope with stressful events and experiences, and reduce the risk of lasting emotional difficulties. Although these may be difficult conversations, they are important.
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to talk with children about such tragic events. However, here are some suggestions that you may find helpful:
- Create an open and supportive environment where children know they can ask questions. At the same time, it’s best not to force children to talk about things unless and until they’re ready.
- Give children honest answers and information. Children will usually know, or eventually find out, if you’re “making things up.” It may affect their ability to trust you or your reassurances in the future.
- Use words and concepts children can understand. Gear your explanations to the child’s age, language and developmental level.
- Be prepared to repeat information and explanations several times. Some information may be hard to accept or understand. Asking the same question over and over may also be a way for a child to ask for reassurance.
- Acknowledge and validate the child’s thoughts, feelings and reactions. Let them know that you think their questions and concerns are important and appropriate.
- Remember that children tend to personalize situations. For example, they may worry about their own safety and the safety of immediate family members, friends and neighbors.
- Be reassuring, but don’t make unrealistic promises.
- Help children find ways to express themselves. Some children may not want to talk about their thoughts, feelings or fears. They may be more comfortable drawing pictures, playing with toys or writing stories or poems.
- Let children know that lots of people are helping the families affected by the attack. It’s a good opportunity to show children that when something scary happens, there are people to help.
- Children learn from watching their parents and teachers. They will be very interested in how you respond to this tragedy. They also learn from listening to your conversations with other adults.
- Don’t let children watch too much television or news coverage with frightening images. The repetition of such scenes can be disturbing and confusing.
- Children who have experienced trauma or losses in the past are particularly vulnerable to prolonged or intense reactions to news or images of the traumatic event. These children may need extra support and attention.
- Monitor for physical symptoms including headaches and stomachaches. Many children express anxiety through physical aches and pains. An increase in such symptoms without apparent medical cause may be a sign that a child is feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
- Children who are preoccupied with questions or concerns about the tragedy should be evaluated by a trained and qualified mental health professional. Other signs that a child may need additional help include ongoing sleep disturbances, intrusive thoughts or worries, or recurring fears about death. If these behaviors persist, ask your child’s pediatrician, family physician or school counselor to help arrange an appropriate referral.
- Although parents and teachers may follow the news and the daily events with scrutiny, many children just want to be children. They’d rather play ball, games or climb trees.
For additional information about mental health issues including PTSD, anxiety and depression, visit the APA’s public education website at www.psychiatry.org/mental-health. For information on the OPPA and additional resources, visit www.ohiopsychiatry.org.