Tuesday, August 3

How do families and survivors cope with the Miami tragedy?


(CNN Español) — The tragedy is not over in Miami. After days in which hundreds of rescuers have worked non-stop to search for possible survivors and recover the bodies, families face a painful wait: to have news, whatever it is, about their loved ones.

So far the partial collapse of a building in Miami, which occurred last week, has left at least 12 dead. But 149 people are still missing in the rubble, as search efforts continue amid the tragedy.

CNN consulted with mental health experts about the different ways to cope with a tragedy like Miami, and how to prepare for difficult news.

How to deal with a tragedy like the one in Miami

For the doctor in psychology Marisa Azaret, collaborator for medical affairs of CNN en Español, “there is no defined or correct way to face an event like this, each one confronts it in a very personal way.”

“It is what the rest of the community must honor and respect. Each person according to their faith and their possibilities. There are those who deny it, those who go into shock, those who express anger, guilt. The whole rainbow of feelings is expected and must be allowed, there is no way, neither good nor bad ».

Not everyone is ready for help at the same time, and that’s okay. There will be families and people who refuse to speak and receive emotional help, they are not ready and you have to respect, “he adds.

Alberto Iturra, the psychologist who led the emotional support during the rescue of the 33 miners in Chile in 2010, emphasizes that “pain manifests the same as all pain, no matter the cause. These abrupt goodbyes are a little more intense for the unexpected, but it manifests the same.

“In this special situation, distrust in the structural system begins to appear, and it will require a good and healthy conversation for the community.”

Iturra focuses on the role of the community and the need to act.

«The truth is, the first thing is to help, give homework and do something useful. There are good rescue teams working. But the community has to contribute and make itself available, feel that something can be done. Communities that remain passive suffer much more from rigor, post-traumatic stress and guilt. Active societies end up being much healthier, ”he says.

For Carolina Campos, a psychologist specializing in grief, “it is essential to understand that survivors are having to adapt and adjust to living after what happened.” “In addition to all the sensations, uncertainty is felt, and experiencing it adds emotions of pain as well as expectations.”

«Psychological support is important to prevent behaviors that may cause damage in the future. But the response to the loss varies in each one depending on the learning history and the verbal history. Support is important (from the community) in the beginning. But people who don’t dare to say they need help can no longer receive that support from the community, ”he says.

Campos highlights the importance of “being able to express oneself”, but that is not intended to eliminate pain, but rather to allow the process of loss to go through.

The “survivor’s fault”

Feeling guilty for having survived a traumatic incident in which other people have lost their lives is a phenomenon that is observed in catastrophes and that has already been seen in Miami. “I feel guilty that I survived”, Alfredo López, a resident of Champlain Towers South, said during a weekend homily for the victims and the missing.

Azaret points out that, although it certainly does happen, this phenomenon is not as common as it is thought.

«It is not a diagnosis but it is an experience that certain people live. What is worrisome is that you get into a vicious cycle of thinking about it, which increases anxiety, dysfunction, the ability to take care of yourself and your sleep pattern.

«Like post-traumatic stress, the feeling of guilt is not as common as it is thought, but it does exist and you have to give the person the opportunity to express themselves, especially if they are people who have had a trauma or conflictive relationships, that puts them at a certain risk ”, affirms Azaret.

Iturra, for his part, also emphasizes that it is an “unusual” phenomenon, but that it does exist. “Nobody can feel guilty because their instincts work. We believe that we can control everything. But you have to place yourself in the reality that you are a being with many limitations. Even though the feeling is possible, it should be appreciated that they survived and even if they wanted to, there was little they could do at the time, “he explains.

Campos, for his part, stresses that guilt “is part of the moment of the catastrophe.” “Seeing that there are a lot of elements in the environment that got out of the person’s control generates anxiety, guilt, remorse, checking over and over again how things happened to see what could have been done.”

«It is important to validate everything that happens to us, such as guilt. You need to understand. Sadness, fear, pain, anger. Here it is important to develop self-compassionate practices, which allow us to identify, recognize and accept the anguish. Especially in our culture of positivity where ‘you have to be fine’ and it is necessary not to be fine.

“Something important is reflection and silence, which is not the same as isolation, which generates a dialogue with ourselves leads to think that what happened could be prevented, that we had control, and generates guilt.”

How Families Prepare for Bad News

“The communities have reacted in an incredible way, and that helps the families: giving support, being able to speak, the role of the religious community”, considers Azaret.

For the doctor in psychology there are several aspects that make the Miami tragedy different.

“In the first place, they have referred to the people of this community as a small United Nations: there are neighbors from Latin America, from the United States, it is very diverse. Therefore, many countries are suffering because they are reflected in their citizens. Another component that makes it more complex is that many buildings are in the same state and are being recertified. The population is reflected in that concern. And that brings the community closer together. “

But the answer is “one day at a time.” «The most important thing is to look for those social ties and not isolate yourself, isolation brings with it extreme anxiety, overflowing thoughts. Putting action on the formula is one of the most important aspects, that means doing something: taking care of your health, sleeping, eating, participating in vigils and prayers, taking a short walk, talking. Small actions that bring some peace to our lives ».

Iturra emphasizes that with each passing day “the range of hope decreases” and families are “beginning to accept more the possibility that (their loved ones) have passed away.” “It usually occurs in an accident situation like this, there is not much more to accept, without forgetting that miracles exist,” he says.

«They are awaiting confirmation of the cases. Preparing in the usual sense doesn’t do much good. The process happens the same and one is never sufficiently prepared to confirm the loss. But knowing the loss is better than the uncertainty, it is processed much better, “he says.

Campos, on the other hand, points out that there is a “great responsibility” on the part of the media and the people who broadcast the news.

«They have to be clear and responsible in what is said. That what happens is described well, that accompaniment is provided for these moments.

On the other hand, Campos recalls that “our culture is very ritualistic, symbolic.” “Being able to understand a death is necessary and people who experience uncertainty, when they receive the news, will be able to go through this grieving process.”


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