THE victims of the Sydney siege need to be surrounded by their loved ones and should talk about their experience only when they are ready, a mental health expert says.
AND parents should be particularly careful about exposing their children to media coverage of the tragedy.
Professor David Forbes, who specialises in post-traumatic stress disorder, says the siege will have a significant effect on the mental health of the hostages and their families. The situation involved “ingredients” that when combined could trigger severe emotional reactions, he says. “One is that it was unpredictable – it occurred in a place that people would feel is safe,” the director of the Australian Centre for Post-Traumatic Mental Health said. “It was an intentional assault, rather than a random, natural event. “And it went on for so long.” The hostages will likely feel a sense of distress and anxiety in the coming weeks, Prof Forbes says. “For most of them, it’s likely to settle in the context of support from family and friends.” A small number may go on to develop more significant mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Recent research suggests it is counterproductive to require survivors to relive the experience or undergo a debrief soon after the event, Prof Forbes says. “The evidence is very clear: allow people to talk about it if they want to but we don’t need people to do that at this point and certainly we mustn’t require them to do that,” he said. “People cope in their own way in their own time.” Even people who had no connection to the event might be affected, including those who have survived a traumatic incident such as an assault or an armed hold-up. “There is a risk of their own experiences being triggered by this event, particularly with the amount of media exposure,” Prof Forbes said. The Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network warns parents to be mindful of how much media exposure their child has to the siege and its aftermath. It advises families to restrict the amount of coverage their children see of the event and to remind them they are safe. WHAT PEOPLE NEED AFTER A TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE: * Social support “One of the most important factors in the aftermath of an event like this is social support,” Professor David Forbes said. * No need to debrief “If you want to talk about it do so, but there is no need to talk about it if you are not feeling like it at this point.” * Be careful with alcohol “Be cautious about using alcohol to try to relax.” * Visit the doctor “If things don’t settle down after a couple of weeks, contact your GP.”