Vicarious trauma is when a person bears witness to another’s trauma. As the horrific events of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School continue to unfold, MehraVista offers the following tips to maintain healthy emotional well-being for both adults and children. Emotions of sadness, confusion, grief, loss and anger are common, normal reactions to a catastrophic event involving death especially when children have suffered.
- Limit Exposure – While media platforms (TV, radio, internet, print, text messaging) are valuable resources for news, they can simultaneously contribute to anxiety, worry and fear. The repetitive nature of the news cycle is often hypnotic in nature. Control and limit the actual amount of time directly watching/or listening to the constant chatter. You control the exposure rather than the exposure controlling you.
- Social Referencing – Children, young and old alike, emotionally respond to events by directly observing how immediate family members and caregivers respond. Children will mirror and “copycat” these responses. If a parent is glued to TV coverage then a child will also replicate this behavior.
- Avoid Overexposure for Children – Parents should directly monitor and supervise the quality and quantity of media exposure. Observe for changes in sleep, appetite, concentration and mood. Changes in these areas lasting more than 2 weeks require medical attention.For children younger than 12, validate their questions and concerns with simple directness. Children seek to be heard and acknowledged. Ambiguous answers can leave them anxious, insecure, and distrustful. Their worry can manifest with insomnia, stomach upset, headaches and school avoidance. Reassurance from you can go a long way.
For children over 12, again keep answers simple and to the point. Ask them more open ended questions like, “how would you have handled a similar situation?” Intellectualizing the event can be helpful for adolescents to master their anxiety. In today’s society these types of conversations are essential to help secure the safety and well-being of our youth.
- Regulate Your Daily Routine – Adults should maintain the consistency of their daily routine. Meal times, bed times, exercise and family activities should NOT be altered for the sake of “catching the latest update.” Refrain from using handheld devices at meals and social situations.
- Make Sensible Preparations – In the event of any local incident, empower yourself and your family with awareness surrounding the processes of local law enforcement. Please consider formulating a family communication strategy such that everyone “checks in”.
- Sustain Optimism – Every effort should be made to stay optimistic and hopeful about the future. Friends, family and peer groups may have a negative and dooms day attitude surrounding these awful events. However, the tragedy and the loss of life has to be processed in the context in which it occurred. Vigilance and awareness is healthy to maintain but a fatalistic view is counterproductive and unhealthy. Focus on gratefulness for what you have.
Please contact MehraVista Health at 866.864.2007 if you or a family member need support.
Rahul N. Mehra, M.D.
CEO/Chief Medical Officer