25 January 2017

Media release: Family and friends can aid recovery of people  distressed by Melbourne violent incident, say psychologists

Experts in trauma recovery available for comment

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) says family and friends can play an important role in the recovery of people upset or traumatised by Melbourne’s recent violent tragedy, by listening to their loved one’s thoughts and feelings if they need to talk.

APS Manager of Public Interest, Heather Gridley, says when people are personally affected by a tragic event they usually need to make some sense of what has happened, and may need to share stories and emotions. “They should be listened to, but not pushed to talk about more than they feel comfortable disclosing,” she says.  “Others may not want to talk at all, and that is also okay.  There is no right or wrong way to feel.” 

She says supportive people provide comfort by being there, by listening if people need to talk, by helping to protect their privacy when they need some time alone, and by caring for them as they begin to deal with their distress. 

“This informal support is incredibly important in the early days and weeks after any such tragic event,” says Ms Gridley. “While some people may benefit from extra psychological assistance in the months ahead, for many people, the support from family and friends in the early days and weeks after it happens is what really matters.”

Ms Gridley says it is not just people who are directly affected who may need support. “We are all touched by grief when something like this happens in our world, even more so when the tragedy involves a familiar location like the Bourke Street Mall, where we think: That could have been us...”   

She says people should not hesitate to directly ask for support from others close to them who may not realise there is a need.  “You might say: I keep thinking about what happened on Friday and I’d really like to talk about it with you.  Do you have time now to talk?” says Ms Gridley.

In its tip sheet Coping with traumatic events, the APS says recovery is also aided by sticking with familiar routines as much as possible, taking a break from media stories about the event and taking care of yourself by resting and eating a healthy diet.

Ms Gridley says many people have found themselves visiting Bourke Street to lay flowers or talk with the emergency responders who are on the scene providing psychological first aid.  “Feeling part of a whole-of-community response can be really helpful - so long as it doesn’t add to the trauma by fuelling rage or spreading misinformation,” she says.

The APS has a range of resources for adults, young people and children coping with tragic events and community violence: http://www.psychology.org.au/topics/disasters/community-human-made/

For more information, or to arrange an interview call Rebecca Matthews on 03 8662 3358 or 0435 896 444, or email media@psychology.org.au.  Find the APS Media team on Twitter:  @AustPsych.