Horrible news can trigger response in those with experiences

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thank goodness few of us have gone through anything like the horrible killings at the Connecticut elementary school, but we might be surprised how many of our friends and neighbors are suffering because of the news.

That's because people who have experienced something like the murder or violent death of a friend or relative may suffer from what we now call post-traumatic stress or another type of anxiety once they hear of the latest event.

Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event, said Scot L. Adams, director of Behavioral Health at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

"Many people who go through traumatic events have difficulty adjusting and coping for a while," said Dr. Joann Schaefer, chief medical officer and director of the Division of Public Health. "But with time and taking care of yourself, such traumatic reactions usually get better.

Post-traumatic stress disorder -- PTSD -- is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event which results in psychological trauma. It may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual or psychological safety.

"A tragedy like this can have a ripple effect in a community," Schaefer said. "Those who suffer PTSD or other types of anxiety need to know that what they are experiencing is typical, that they are not abnormal," she said.

People with PTSD need to stay connected to family and friends and need to know that they are not alone. They -- like everyone else -- need to take care of themselves by exercising and getting plenty of sleep to reduce stress.

"Talking to someone about what you are feeling can be very important," Adams said. "By acknowledging anxieties and asking for help, those who suffer from PTSD or anxiety can experience a reduction in anxiety and other negative emotions. Reach out to someone who is suffering and offer your support.

They noted that the Nebraska Family Helpline is available for those who personally need help or who need advice on how to talk to their children about the tragedy. Call (888) 866-8660 any time, night or day, or visit http://dhhs.ne.gov/NetworkofCare.

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