BUFFALO, N.Y. -- After a collective trauma, such as Thursday's
crash of Continental Flight 3407, an entire community (or even the
nation) can be exposed to the tragedy through media coverage and
second-hand accounts, according to Mark Seery, Ph.D., University at
Buffalo assistant professor of psychology.
"Individuals potentially suffer negative effects on their mental
and physical health, even if they have not 'directly' experienced
the loss of someone they know or have not witnessed the event or
its aftermath in person," Seery says.
In this type of situation, it is common for people to think that
everyone exposed to the tragedy will need to talk about it, and if
they do not, they are suppressing their "true" thoughts and
feelings, which will only rebound later and cause them
This is not always the case, Seery explains.
"Expressing one's thoughts and feelings to a supportive listener
can certainly be a good thing, whether it is to family and friends
or to a professional therapist or counselor. However, this does not
mean that it is bad or unhealthy to not want to express thoughts
and feelings when given the opportunity."
Seery's perspective results from his research of people's
responses following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He and
colleagues studied a national sample of people, most of whom did
not witness the events in person or lose a loved one. They did,
however, experience the events through media coverage.
"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. Specifically, they reported lower levels of
mental and physical health symptoms."
From this research Seery concludes there is no single correct or
healthy way to deal with a tragedy such as the crash of Flight
3407, which claimed 50 lives.
"People are generally resilient and have a good sense of what
coping strategies will work for them," Seery says. "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 about it."
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.