Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reflections on the Sydney siege aftermath

It’s been a frightening and tragic 24 hours for people living in Sydney in the wake of the siege that took place in the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place. My hope is that in a small way I might be able contribute positively to the online environment and the mental health and wellbeing of anyone experiencing the range of emotions one feels after events like this.

The evening before the siege I happened to be watching one of my favourite episodes of the political drama series The West Wing (Noël, episode 10, season 2). Set in the days leading up to Christmas, the episode focuses on Josh Lyman (one of the lead characters) and his coming to terms with having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Earlier in the season Josh was critically injured by political extremists in an assassination attempt on President Jed Bartlet. Once Josh recovered from the physical wounds he seemed to be fine, but in this episode we observe the process of Josh exhibiting symptoms of what turns out to be PTSD.

Fortunately his friends see that something isn’t right and seek assistance from mental health professionals. They are able to work with Josh and bring his emotional suffering to light, make a diagnosis and enable the healing process to begin.

Here are four brief points I would like to apply from this episode combined with my own experience of coping with distressing events:

1. It is always OK to share with someone you trust how you are feeling in the aftermath of a tragic event, regardless of whether you are personally involved or are 10,000 miles away (as was the case with me when the 9/11 attacks triggered me to have a panic attack). 

2. It is wise to limit how much media you consume about the tragic event. Avoid media focused on speculation and finger pointing (e.g. criticism of the NSW police and legal system). 

3. Mental health professionals are trained to provide assistance to whatever degree might assist you if you think you might benefit from it. Many companies and government departments have confidential employee assistance programs with a hotline you can call to speak to a counselor. The online resource mindhealthconnect is an easy way to find mental health and wellbeing information, support and services (including free services) from Australia's leading health providers

4. If you happen to be feeling fragile right now, take heart from knowing that you are not alone in what you are going through - you’re not going crazy, people experience and recover from mental difficulties all the time.

I thought I would finish as usual with a music video which I have found to be therapeutic when going through hard times - music is a great healer in my experience.