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Coping with the pictures

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Sep 21/01) - "You are traumatized vicariously through all these live images," says clinical psychologist Roxanne Valade about the terrorist attacks on the United States last week.

Clinical psychologist Roxanne Valade: "Too much information helps create the symptoms." - Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

"This was live and that's why it's had such an immense, widespread impact on people."

The psychologist, who works for Stanton Regional Health Board's Mental Health Clinic, says it doesn't matter whether the viewer knew someone involved either directly or indirectly.

"We were all in shock. Unless you're totally insensitive and out of the world, not in the world. Hearing about it, reading about it, seeing it non-stop on some channels, that has to have a profound impact on people, on how they function, on dreams, thoughts and obsessions."

Valade says these are very typical reactions to a very abnormal situation. People experienced, and may still be experiencing, lack of appetite, insomnia, nightmares, fear, loss of control and a heightened sense of vulnerability.

"That's what terrorism is all about," she says.

And even though we all have a sense of a cataclysmic situation not yet finished, Valade says there are a few things that can help people cope.

"Keep a routine as much as possible. Fear immobilizes, so go against the grain. You may have to push yourself initially."

Valade also suggests that people not over stimulate themselves.

"Too much information helps create the symptoms," she says.

In order to help kids cope, adults need to come to terms with the tragedy themselves.

"Adults have a better capacity to process the information."

Talking with kids, letting them talk, is important.

"Limit kids' exposure," she says.

Adults too need to talk to other adults.

"What you're feeling is normal. Talk to someone you trust about it. They are likely having similar experiences."

Other symptoms may include decreased performance at work or school, relationship turmoil, interpersonal problems, isolation and withdrawal. The reactions may be immediate or delayed. The intensity and duration may vary.

"There's no right or wrong in how people cope with trauma."

Valade notes that doing everyday, normal things will help restore a sense of normalcy.

"But honour what's been happening. We're not machines."

Finally, says Valade, time will heal. It may not ever erase the images, but it will let them fade.

"It will take time. I think people need to be realistic about that. The idea is not to forget but to put it behind."