A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Wellness Matters: When dealing with the aftermath of trauma, remember to look away

By Blake L. Jones
KyForward columnist

I knew I shouldn’t be looking. On the day of the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon, I was seeing patients all day at Access Wellness Group. Every hour, however, I would log on to CNN and watch the latest horrific video feed or pictures of runners stumbling to the ground as the blast erupted. I had just finished talking so someone about taking care of his mind, and here I was filling my own with these grisly images.

It’s natural for us to want information—and lots of it—when faced with this unfathomable cruelty. The purpose of this article is to caution us all that, as my 13-year-old son might say, we can experience “TMI” – too much information.

After witnessing a trauma, even from afar, several things tend to happen. First, the person who has experienced it feels a sense of unbelief. This is the mind’s way of protecting us from the awfulness that has occurred. Then, once the shock wears off, our automatic response is to try and help those who have been hurt. I love the quote by Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers fame): “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” I saw a number of brave people on TV dive into the crowd of bloody and mangled bystanders, trying their best to help them. This is the best of humanity.

Once the victims have been taken care of, we often experience feelings of intense rage and anger. After the Newtown shootings, I couldn’t stop thinking about the innocence that was lost that day in such a senseless act. Some people report a sense of helplessness, even depression. I read many comments on Facebook the night of the bombing, ranging from utter sadness, to prayerful hope, to white hot anger. My point is that all of these feelings are normal and appropriate. I would say they can even be cathartic. Children, especially, should be allowed to express their feelings in a safe and supportive environment.

I encourage parents who are reading this to heed my warning about “too much information.” The average American child is bombarded with TV from the morning they get up until they go to bed. The media’s mantra appears to be, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Caretakers should turn the TV off and go outdoors and play with their children. Try as best you can to shield young children from the terrifying images that play across our screens throughout the day.

Older children may need to work their trauma experience out in their own way as well. Give them an opening to come to you and talk about what they are thinking and feeling, but don’t push too hard. Show them that you value their opinions and that you will provide a listening ear.

My heart goes out to the people of Boston. They will never be the same. But I believe strongly in resilience, and I plan to run a 5K on Saturday as a tribute to the human spirit.

Be well…

Blake Jones, MSW, LCSW, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical social worker at Access Wellness Group, a Lexington-based group providing counseling and addiction treatment services to individuals, families and Employee Assistance Program client companies. Jones specializes in couples counseling, men’s issues and work-related problems.  He is a graduate of Berea College and the University of Kentucky.  Jones, who lives in Woodford County with his wife of 17 years and their two sons, is also a singer-songwriter.

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