How to Cope With the Trauma of Terror Events, Even for Those Not Directly Affected

PHOTO: Women embrace each other on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 in Ground Zero, on Sept. 11, 2016, in New York City.PlayMohammed Elshamy/Getty Images
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An explosion in Manhattan, bombs found in New Jersey and a massive manhunt for the suspected perpetrator have put many on the East Coast and throughout the country on edge.

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Months of terror events have struck France, Iraq and Turkey have lead not only to loss of life and injuries in those locations, but also a growing sense of uncertainty and fear.

Health experts point out that fears of terrorism, even among people not directly affected by events, can have negative consequences for mental health.

For those starting to feel trauma, images can sometimes exacerbate the stress. Turning off frightening images and video can be an important step for coping.

"Whether through social media, television ... those images are coming fast and furious," Robin Gurwitch, a psychologist who specializes in disaster trauma at Duke University told ABC News in a previous interview. "What we do know is there’s a strong relationship between stress reactions and watching these images."

Living far away from the center of a terror event doesn't buffer some people from feeling traumatized.

In the days after the 9/11 attacks, researchers found that 44 percent of Americans reported at least one symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after viewing constant coverage, according to the National Center for PTSD. Additionally, one study found the amount of time watching TV coverage of the attacks correlated to the level of PTSD symptoms.

"Research has shown that deliberate violence creates longer-lasting mental health effects than natural disasters or accidents," according to researchers from the center, which is part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "The consequences for both individuals and the community are prolonged, and survivors often feel that injustice has been done to them. This can lead to anger, frustration, helplessness, fear, and a desire for revenge."

For parents the tension can be compounded when trying to explain violence and terror attacks to young children.

"Children may not understand what they’re seeing, so it becomes more frightening," Gurwitch, who is also part of the American Psychological Association Disaster Resource Network, American Red Cross and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, added.

With older children, she said, parents can engage with them to help them make sense of upsetting footage, asking questions such as "What do you think about what you just saw?"

The American Psychological Association (APA) advises that parents "tell the truth" so that children are not misinformed. They also advise parents to be honest when they do not have all the answers.

"Sometimes the answer to the question is 'I don’t know,'" APA officials advised.

If a child asks something like, "'Why did the bad people do this?'" they said, then the answer,"'I don’t know" fits.'"

Parents can provide age-appropriate details about what happened and start a dialogue, so that children do not feel they must avoid the topic or keep their fears to themselves.

For those feeling overwhelmed, resources are available through the APA and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration below.

APA Psychologist Locator

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Line

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