Port Macquarie psychologist Sarah Shuter comments on mental impact of terror attacks

Be aware: Psychologist Sarah Shuter said parents should listen to let their children express their worries and concerns, monitor media exposure, answer their questions honestly with age-appropriate explanations and help them contextualise events.

Be aware: Psychologist Sarah Shuter said parents should listen to let their children express their worries and concerns, monitor media exposure, answer their questions honestly with age-appropriate explanations and help them contextualise events.

A Port Macquarie psychologist wants people to be aware of the impact terror attacks can have on their mental wellbeing. 

Sarah Shuter said overseas terror attacks such as ones which recently took place in Manchester and in London can threaten people’s basic needs for safety, control, connection to others and pain avoidance.

“Whenever these needs become threatened our brain can jump into survival mode which can trigger our fight or flight response,” she said. 

“It’s our brain’s way of trying to keep us safe.”

“Being in this state triggers our stress (survival) response and if we stay in that too long can lead to anxiety and depression.”

Ms Shuter said other symptoms include stress, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, increased frustration and anger, feelings of fear and helplessness, withdrawal from activities and not wanting to go to certain places.

She said children may become more clingy, or express more somatic complaints (eg tummy aches) or display regressive behaviours.

Ms Shuter’s advice for people is to seek help early if they or a family member is experiencing any of these symptoms.  

To mitigate the psychological impact of these kind of events Ms Shuter said people should share their feelings with someone they trust, limit media exposure and read or watch things which make them happy.

“Remind yourself that there is a lot of good in the world, and engage in protective behaviours,” she said. 

“Regular exercise, good sleep, good nutrition, and social contact all help keep our brain functioning well and reduce the impact of stress.”

The attacks can also impact a child’s view of how they see and feel about the world they live in. 

Ms Shuter said parents should listen to let their children express their worries and concerns, monitor media exposure, answer their questions honestly with age-appropriate explanations and help them contextualise events.

“For example tell them terrorists are a tiny minority and the vast majority of people are good,” she said.

“Reassure children lots of people are working very hard all over the place to keep people safe, hug them, do calming activities, maintain routines, increase a sense of safety and install hope, provide stories of people who make the world a better place and be aware of your own reactions.

“Shield very young children from it.”

There are people Ms Shuter said who are more prone to developing anxiety or depression including those currently experiencing high levels of stress.

“Those travelling to certain destinations may also be at a higher risk,” she said. 

Ms Shuter said it is important for people to remember they are not alone.

“A lot of people around you are feeling the same way,” she said. 

“We are all in this together.”

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