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How to cope with public Grief and Trauma

By Dr Marianne Trent, Clinical Psychologist

A young woman in a car looking concerns as she watches something out of a car window
Witnessing or hearing about trauma can be distressing

I had an inquiry about some TV work for a news channel about public grief and trauma, and so I thought I would come on and talk today about that, which has been, of course, inspired by the incidents in Nottingham earlier this week. Which sadly led to the loss of three people's lives and the injury of more people too. I am sending my deepest condolences and thoughts with you if you've been infected in any way.

But of course what we notice in public situations like this where there's lots of media, lots of attention, is we notice that there's generally a heightened level of distress around. And this is our incredibly tricky human brain working to try and mull over what's happened, to try and draw conclusions, to try and make sense of what's happened.

And sometimes some of the information that we hear, especially if people have witnessed it themselves, will get stuck. It will feel like it's coming to you when you didn't mean to think about it. And that's what we call vicarious trauma. If you've heard it but not witnessed it. But if you've been part of it, if you have seen it, then you know, you might well notice that you've got symptoms of trauma, that you feel distress, that you feel upset, that you feel taught, tearful, that you find it difficult to function in the way that you usually would. However, what we also see is people who weren't involved but who really react to this, that this feels like it heightens the risk. So what has happened is a very rare occurrence, but it makes us think that it's more likely.

So back in the days before there was such wide press access for us, you know, we wouldn't have heard about these incidents had it unless it had been, word of mouth, someone that we'd seen. And this is the way that our human brains usually work best, is to just know the immediate risks and dangers, not those that might never hopefully before us, but of course, our human tricky brains can try to predict and plan and try to make sure as much as possible, this doesn't happen to ourselves or to our loved ones, or to anyone else for that matter. And you might find that people who already were perhaps more vulnerable to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or already had OCD might find that they feel triggered by what's happened and that it leads to more of an attempt to find stability, to find security, which can be distressing not only for that person, but for those near to them that love them as well.

An image of people talking in a group setting
Talking can be helpful

So, if you have been affected by the Nottingham incidents, either directly or from hearing about them and you feel distressed, even if you just feel it's not lying flat, then actually one of the evidence-based ways to help that to feel more comfortable is to talk to someone. It can also be useful to write out everything in a before section, a during section and an after section. So before would be when you were going about your normal life before you heard about this, during would be from when you first heard about it, to when you felt safe and after would be the sections after. Try to sleep as you would normally sleep. Try not to drink or take more drugs than you usually would.

Be kind to yourselves, and if it would be helpful to reach out for support, please know that that is available as well, you can speak to your GP or local state or private mental health service.

An Image of the grief collective book by Dr Marianne Trent
The Grief Collective Book

If you are grieving or have grieved, you might find The Grief Collective: Stories of Life, Loss and Learning to Heal helpful too.

Please be kind to yourselves and to others.

To Book Dr Marianne for any media work please complete a contact form at the bottom this page here.


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