It’s ok not to be ok – mental health advice following the Manchester terror attack

Dr Alan Barrett is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist with Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust. He specialises in supporting people who have experienced a traumatic incident and offers advice on what is normal and when to seek more professional help.

“The emotional effects will be felt by survivors, bereaved families, friends, emergency services, health care workers and the general public. If somebody witnessed or lost someone in the attack they will most certainly have a strong reaction. Reactions are likely to be strongest in those closest to the incident, who directly witnessed the aftermath and who were involved in the immediate care of victims. But it will have affected us all in some way or another.

“We need to help people to appreciate that their thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and behaviours are normal responses to unusual events. Try not to over-think about every detail or avoid thinking about it entirely; just notice that these reactions are occurring.

“If you become distressed by these recollections then remember they are just memories and they are not happening right now. People may find that they are going over the incident and their reaction again and again. During this period of trying to make sense of what has happened, it may be helpful to write some of what you remember down, or even record it on your phone.

“Adults may wish to retell their story and children may repeat the incident through play or within drawings.

“It’s really important to continue to look after your health and wellbeing after a traumatic incident, which means getting rest, eating well, returning to your routine, and staying connected with others.

“Normally people will find that they recover naturally from these events and don’t require any professional support. However, if after around four weeks they are still struggling to cope, they may need to speak to their GP or self-refer to NHS psychological therapy services. It is important that the person offering you mental health support is regulated, insured and qualified to do so.”

Common reactions to traumatic events

The following responses are normal and to be expected in the first few weeks:

  • Emotional reactions such as feeling afraid, sad, horrified, helpless, overwhelmed, angry, confused, numb or disorientated
  • Distressing thoughts and images that just pop into your head 
  • Nightmares 
  • Disturbed sleep or insomnia 
  • Feeling anxious 
  • Low mood

When to seek help

If about a month after the event anyone is still experiencing the following difficulties, it is a good idea to seek help:

  • Feeling upset and fearful most of the time
  • Acting very differently to before the trauma 
  • Not being able to work or look after the home and family 
  • Having deteriorating relationship difficulties 
  • Using drugs or drinking too much 
  • Feeling very jumpy 
  • Still not being able to stop thinking about the incidents 
  • Still not being able to enjoy life at all

Click more information about local mental health services for children, young people and adults.

Pennine Care provides mental health services within Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport and Tameside and Glossop.