Trauma experts discuss how to cope with bombings

Brian Benson%%More Content Now News

Listen to relaxing music. Go for a walk. Switch the television away from news coverage. Talk with friends and family.

That is some of the advice trauma experts have for people who were near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday or have been rattled by the bombings and subsequent violence in Cambridge and Watertown.

"Because it involved a deliberate act of violence … on innocent people, it has a particularly unnerving quality to it," said Wayne Dailey, a disaster mental health manager for the American Red Cross helping in the Boston area this week. "This kind of thing can cause people to have lots of questions about their personal safety, their belief about their community and whether the community is becoming fragmented."

Since the Monday bombings killed three and injured more than 170, Dailey said Red Cross workers have helped people cope with the tragedy at vigils and other places of need. Workers at Riverside Trauma Center have helped employees of businesses near the blast sites. And, some schools are preparing to have counselors available when students return from spring vacation Monday

Leza Sarrouf, of Framingham-based Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, said community gatherings such as vigils can help people heal.

"I think the community gathering is really, really important," Sarrouf said. "People feel isolated in their experience. People who have PTSD kind of look at the world with blinders on."

Sarrouf said the people recovering from the Marathon explosions should take a cue from the techniques combat soldiers suffering PTSD use to  recover.

"Be with family and friends, try to disengage from chronically seeing reminders (of the bombings)," she said. "Try to be in a more soothing environment for yourself so that your body can start to relax. ….If you don’t feel like talking, don’t talk about it."

MetroWest Medical Center Dr. Richard Young, who treats people suffering from trauma, said it is normal to relive traumatic events in the first few days after the incident, but if such feelings are intense or linger, people should seek help.

"We don’t know which person will be traumatized by it," he said.

 Young said learning of the bombings could trigger memories of past trauma in someone even if they were not at the blast site.

Jim McCauley, associate director of Riverside Trauma Center in Needham, said if symptoms last more than a couple weeks, people should seek help through their primary care physician.

"For most people, sleep is the best barometer for how they’re doing," McCauley said. "If they’re sleeping OK, they’ll probably recover pretty quickly."

McCauley said while soldiers battling PTSD likely witnessed trauma, many people unsettled by the Marathon bombing will face secondary trauma from watching the images of the blast over and over on TV.

Trauma experts said it is important for people to get sleep and stay hydrated. People experiencing symptoms should not take drugs to drink to help cope.

Ashland High School plans to have professionals from Riverside available at 2 p.m. Monday in the guidance office to help students and families, according to a message from the school’s guidance department.

Superintendent Brooke Clenchy said in an email some high school students were nearby when the Marathon bombs exploded. Clenchy said other schools’ guidance departments will link with the high school to provide support for their students and staff and administrators will take steps at each school as needed.

Wayland Superintendent Paul Stein said staff will look for students who "call out for our attention and care. We will try to answer questions, and we will offer the routine of a normal school day."

Dailey, of the Red Cross, said most people recover without treatment, but if problems persist they should seek professional support or talk to trusted people, like clergy.

"If people engage in healthy habits and be gentle to themselves in the immediate aftermath, with time and with the support of friends and neighbors and families, they will make a full recovery," he said.

Brian Benson can be reached at 508-626-3964 or bbenson@wickedlocal.com.