While first responders are trained to deal with emergencies, mental health experts say nothing can truly prepare them psychologically when faced with a mass tragedy such as the collapse of the Champlain Towers South.
“Many of these people will suffer similar effects to the 9/11 events when we know that between 7 to 20% of people suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by witnessing a terrifying event and having flashbacks, nightmares severe anxiety and re-experiencing of the event,” said psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Bober.
Psychologist Dr. Terry Lyles said many people, both directly and indirectly impacted by the tragedy, are dealing with the stress of the unknown.
“It’s what we don’t understand we don’t have a reference in our mind for these kinds of situations so when this kind of disaster takes place we go back to a reference in our mind of what has happened and how we handled it but when something like this happens we can go into that really dark space of the unknown if we’re not careful,” Lyles said.
In his pamphlet “Caught in Nature’s Path,” Lyles talks about dealing with grief after a disaster.
“The first stage of grief is shock, and that’s a really good thing because we become anesthetized, we have a chemical numbing effect that takes place in our bodies, our minds can adapt, eventually it will wear off it may take days, but in a tragedy like this that can be prolonged. That’s really a good thing for us as survivors and communities because it gives us an opportunity to care for people around us, to stay hopeful and then when the results come back we can move through those stages of grief,” Lyles said.
Bober said people experiencing PTSD need to be allowed to process their emotions and reactions at their own pace.
“It turns out that most people will recover from this tragedy and be resilient however there are people who will suffer debilitating symptoms that will require professional help in the way of psychotherapy or medication or both,” he said.