WASHINGTON – As the dust settles over the scenes of last week’s horrific destruction and the shock subsides, the emotional recovery is just beginning for the rest of the nation, experts say.
As people in Maryland and elsewhere grapple with what was previously unimaginable, denial will give way to intensified emotional reactions and physical symptoms of stress, such as sweating, rapid heartbeat and headaches. In coming weeks, they may be suffering from depression as a result of a delayed reaction common in victims of trauma.
“Given the enormity that happened, everybody, even those who don’t directly know someone involved, is affected,” said Dr. David Ginsberg, director of outpatient psychiatry at New York University Medical Center.
Ginsberg, who is helping rescue workers and family members of disaster victims in New York City, said those people are more likely to have severe reactions than those who experienced it at a distance. But the magnitude of this national tragedy will be felt by all, he said.
A lot of people do not recognize that “secondary traumatization” of people who were not directly involved, said Linda Tifton, a staff psychologist at the University of Maryland’s Counseling Center.
“My guess is that people are going to start withdrawing from people,” Tifton said.
She encourages those who are suffering to share their feelings with people they trust. Those experiencing depression should take active steps to cope, such as exercise, regular eating, deep breathing and alcohol and drug avoidance.
“Make sure you don’t get down on yourself,” Tifton said.
Patricia Erickson, director of criminal justice and professor of sociology at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., warned that some might have problems sleeping or this week or might suffer from emotional exhaustion this week. She said people, especially children, should stop constantly watching news coverage of the attacks.
Children react to trauma in different ways depending on their age, temperament, personality and previous experiences, Ginsberg said.
“I think children are likely to be upset and nervous,” he said. “They may have concerns about their own safety or their parents.”
Ginsberg said it is not uncommon for children to want to sleep in the same bed as their parents or request a night-light.
“They may have fantasies that the disaster never happened, they may have difficulty with school, they may not want to go to school,” he said.
Erickson said parents should spend time with their children and make them feel safe so they will not experience anxiety problems. Ginsberg said parents should maintain a structured routine for their children, but allow some time for play.
When answering questions, Ginsberg said that parents should be honest and keep information simple. He advises parents to limit their child’s media exposure.
“It is important to watch the news with children and to talk about it with them,” he said. “With time, in the next weeks, people will be able to deal with this adequately, although I do think that that everybody’s sense of vulnerability was affected.”