Personal Safety-A Guide for Caring Adults II

November 7, 2001

Los Angeles: Following the September 11, 2001 tragedy, the Los Angeles Police Department embarked on a course of action, requiring us to provide the public with safety tips. Additionally, the Los Angeles Police Department is committed to providing the public with information on ways to cope with [and adapt to] situations that persons are likely to encounter following the September 11th attack on our nation.
The following information is provided by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health to assist the public with understanding the emotional reactions to such incidents. This is the second in a two-part series on this topic.
When unexpected acts of violence occur, they disrupt our daily life and sense of equilibrium. Physical or behavioral reactions run the gamut. Reactions to abnormal events may surface immediately or, in many cases, days or weeks after the incident. This is normal.

Strategies for Recovery:

Reassurance is extremely important. It is very helpful to communicate to others a sense of safety, control and balance: Help life return to "normal."

Limit time spent on repeated exposure to TV, radio, Internet viewing of the incident to avoid sensory overload.

The resumption of normal activities plays an important role in achieving a sense of control and well being.

Talking about the incident and associated thoughts, feelings and reactions are extremely helpful in the recovery process.

Denying, avoiding, blocking, or minimizing thoughts or feelings are not helpful and may prolong the recovery period.

An emotionally supportive environment can minimize the negative effects of disturbing incidents.

It is also important to provide survivors a framework that explains the uneasiness and discomforts that typically follow an unanticipated act of violence. It is normal for persons exposed to unexpected acts of violence to trigger a range of confusing and intense thoughts and emotions.
Rehearse safety measures that may be taken to give family members a sense of control over a similar type of event.
Diet, physical activity, exercise, rest and relaxation also help to achieve a sense of balance and equilibrium. Reaching out to friends and significant others is also important.

Long-term Impact

The emotional distress goes far beyond the immediate impact of the initial destruction. Critical incidents affect individuals emotionally, can change relationships, disrupt work and cause financial worries.
Additional stressors include dealing with bureaucratic hassles, such as building permits or settling insurance issues while striving to maintain an ordered, daily life.

Increased irritability over time, arguments, a feeling of exhaustion, illness and survivor guilt are common.

The cumulative stress from coping with the increased problems from the "violent act" and the necessity to continue with work, family and other obligations may leave us emotionally shattered.

Some individuals are forced to delay dealing with the psychological impact because they need to focus energy on concrete needs, such as finding their loved ones, finding temporary housing, or attending to financial matters. Over time, they may be hit with feelings of anger, depression, isolation or apathy. These feelings may remain strong or even increase in intensity as time progresses.

Delayed reactions are normal.

An event, sights, sounds or smells may trigger emotional responses months after the event.
Just as it takes months or years to rebuild damaged or destroyed buildings…it takes time to grieve over losses and to rebuild our lives.
It is important to note that these feelings are normal reactions to an uncommon event. You are not alone.

When Problems Persists

Talk to a counselor or family therapist. With professional assistance, "adjustment reactions" may be dealt with relatively quickly and easily.
People who have had previous experiences with trauma may experience more severe reactions, including flashbacks. When "normal reactions" begin to interfere with daily functioning or are subjectively distressing to the individual, seek professional counseling. If you are not sure whether you could benefit from counseling, call and speak with a licensed, professional counselor to help determine if you need some short term counseling.
Call the County of Los Angeles, Department of Mental Health [ACCESS] at 800-854-7771 for information or referral 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
This media advisory was prepared by Public Information Officer Victoria Diaz, Media Relations Section, 213-485-3586.