Viewpoint: Flight MH370 – “Grief is not a spectator sport”

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Peter Kinderman is Professor of Clinical Psychology and Head of the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society

“The argument for sending everyone a text message is that you don’t want the news to drip out in an uncoordinated way so you can see why they’d say, “Let’s have a single message.”

It sounds brutal, it sounds like a bad way to do things and it could seem ill-advised, but one of the things that is really bad for people is to have uncontrolled rumours. So I can see why you’d want to give this message very clearly and in a way you can literally take away. But it’s important that the families are taken aside, told what they need to know and have it followed up with written information.

But there are other limitations, apart from the image that this conveys. Anyone who receives that text message would immediately have their questions. If you’re sending someone a text message, every single  person will have a different question: When did you decide? Have you seen bodies? Is this based on statistical probability? Do you know why? All of the questions will come out and those are not easy to respond to via text message.

The first things the families need now is information – they need information more than anything else. Authorities need to tell them as much as they know, as clearly as they can.

The second thing they need is to have a sense of community and shared support for each other. When people go through shared tragedies those tragedies are somewhat easier to bear if you’re part of a community. At this stage, I wouldn’t necessarily try to offer them therapy or counselling, I’d try to offer them facts and try to build a sense of community.

We mustn’t second guess people’s psychological reactions. As a psychologist I wouldn’t try to interpret those reactions. Whatever is happening should be considered normal.

What can the media do? They shouldn’t use grief as a spectator sport. I know it’s very attractive, but you should leave them alone. Please don’t think the media can do something helpful for these people. Don’t take photos when somebody is doing something slightly unusual like rocking or praying or getting angry; that’s what people do. They’re not odd, they’re not strange and they’re not particularly interesting. Don’t judge them, and leave them alone. All shades of human emotional response are normal and natural.”

This Viewpoint was first published in `The Conversation’.

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