February 18, 2009

No ‘right’ way to cope with tragedy

After a collective trauma, such as the crash of Continental Flight 3407, people often experience the tragedy via media coverage, U.S. researchers suggest.

Mark Seery of the University at Buffalo says that in a situation like the plane crash, it is common for people to think that everyone exposed to the tragedy will need to talk about it but this isn't always the case.

Seery and colleagues studied a national sample of people after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and found while most didn't witness the events in person or lose a loved one, they did experience the events through media coverage.

From this research, the researchers conclude there is no single correct or healthy way to deal with such a tragedy.

We found that people who chose not to express at all or who expressed only a small amount in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy were better off over the following two years than people who expressed more, Seery says in a statement.

People are generally resilient and have a good sense of what coping strategies will work for them -- if they need to talk, they will talk, and friends and family can help by listening supportively. At the same time, they should not force the issue or make anyone feel like something is wrong with them if they do not want to talk.