Dealing with disaster
The television is full of images of disaster. The Jersey shore may never be quite the same. Staten Island looks like a war zone. People in Southern Manhattan can't get heat or water. Hurricane Sandy really did a number on the East Coast.
When people are in the middle of a crisis, most are feeling nothing but anxiety and tension. Feelings of helplessness and lack of control bring on great stress. Reactions at these times of trial vary from person to person because each of us handles disaster differently.
According to retired Monsignor Joseph P. Dooley, people usually go through six stages when they are confronted with a disaster. These stages are:
1. Shock and Disbelief - "This can't be happening to me."
2. Panic -A sense of fear sets in; crying; mental confusion; irrational thoughts.
3. Anger and Hostility - Lashing out at whatever is perceived to be responsible; bitterness; resentment.
4. Withdrawal and Depression- A sense of abandonment; loneliness; hurting even those you love.
5. Bargaining - The last line of defense; promises to change or repent if only the crisis will go away; begins to understand the reality of the situation.
6. Resignation and Acceptance - Putting things into perspective; striking out in new directions; making a new start.
There is no time limit for each step. Some people get "stuck" on one step for a lifetime. Also, there is no assurance that going through these steps will bring peace.
As with all of life's problems, time can be a great healer. Today I can think of my Dad (who died in 1968 in a car crash) without getting emotional. But, it amazes me that - even after more than 40 years - little things can still bring back a memory of him.
I was 28 when my Dad died and had the benefit of maturity to handle his death. How do children handle disaster and crisis? Most children will interpret the negative incident as a personal danger to themselves and their family.
Behavior such as bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, baby talk, or fear of sleeping alone may intensify in children who are experiencing the stress of a disaster. They may complain of stomach aches, headaches, and a reluctance to go to school. It is important for the child's caregiver to remember that the child isn't being "bad," - he's just afraid.
Here are some suggestions to help children cope with a disaster or family crisis:
1. Reassure the child often that he is safe.
2. Provide extra comfort and contact.
3. Let the child talk about his fears and listen to him.
4. Answer the child's questions in clear, simple, honest ways.
5. Don't tell the child not to worry. That will make him worry all the more.
6. Children know when we are lying to them. Be truthful, but don't dwell on the negatives
7. Children's fears are always worse in the nighttime. Stick around until he falls asleep and let him have a nightlight if he wants one.
8. Monitor what your child sees on TV. Images of disaster are extremely frightening to young children.
9. Don't be afraid of saying "I don't know." Explain that disaster is unpredictable and even adults have trouble dealing with them.
10. Keep the child's life as normal as possible. Also, try hard to distract him so that he doesn't dwell on the disaster.
In our 2012 world, we are exposed to a wide range of trauma - accidents, airplane crashes, acts of violence, physical assault, natural disasters, and family issues such as divorce and child abuse. Handling these incidents can be life-changing.
If you need immediate help with a problem, the National Mental Health Association has a 24-hour hotline. Just call 1-800-969-6642.
It is important to realize that it takes time for the survivor of a disaster to put the trauma behind him. Some never do.
If you would like to contact Dr. Smith, she can be reached at her email address: firstname.lastname@example.org or in care of this newspaper.