Traumatic Mental Recovery for People Is a Key Priority

ABC news focused on the story of Joe Berti who had just finished running the Boston Marathon as the two explosions ripped through the nearby crowd and who immediately returned to his home in Texas just in time to have a close call with the explosion of a fertilizer plant.

Berti’s story reminds us that the bomb attack during the Boston Marathon as well as the fertilizer factory explosion in West, Texas, affected numerous people in addition to those who lost their lives or were physically injured. Events such as this terror attack and industrial accident result in physical and emotional devastation for a wide range of people. Obviously, it will take time for those injured to heal, for those grieving to mourn and for business and race planners to get back to some semblance of normalcy. The recovery of facilities, operations and property is certainly important, as well as the emotional and mental recovery of those affected.

Improve Emotional and Mental Recovery

Because shock and disorientation are typically the initial reactions in disaster situations, there is also a risk of acute traumatic stress impacts. In fact, research following the 9/11 terror attacks revealed that emotional and psychological effects even affected people who were great distances removed from the epicenter points. These have been attributed to the widespread media coverage as well as personal sympathetic “identification” with those who were suffering physically and emotionally. However, this psychological damage severely impacted those closer to the event including emergency responders and health care providers.

The top tips to best to aid mental recovery include:

• ensure that affected individuals are encouraged to remain in connection with others so as to avoid or minimize any sense of isolation
• empower them to acknowledge and accept their feelings through a talk-time-tears approach
• help each person maintain a balance between work and rest (both during and after the disaster).

Mitigate Psychological Impacts

Full recovery from the events in Boston and in West, Texas will require diligence to monitor and assess the psychological impacts of this event, appropriate self-help, intervention strategies and long-term emotional and psychological recovery. Each of us can help mitigate the results of such a disaster by:

1. building physical, emotional and mental resiliency among people;
2. initiating established support systems that provide support, comfort and aid prior to a disaster
3. ensure recovery efforts which provide psychological first aid.

As individuals and families begin to heal, this is also the time to evaluate overall plans for resiliency, continuity and people support for when the next tragedy inevitably occurs.

Robert C. Chandler, Ph.D.
Director, Nicholson School of Communication