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Jill Meagher: tragedy and perspective

September 28, 2012

Emotional reaction across Australia to the death of ABC staffer Jill Meagher has been intense.  Violent and senseless events, particularly when in connection with a person that many of us can relate to, create a ripple effect in communities.

Psychologist Richard Galloway coined the term “emotional flu” to describe how people in the United States felt after the events of September 11, in an article about helping children and adolescents to cope with emotional and tragic events.

There are three points of advice he provides in the article that are worth thinking on as we reflect on Jill Meagher’s passing:

Maintain a positive outlook for the future

When we undertand that negative events are temporary, we are much more likely to develop a belief in our ability to deal with stress.  As Galloway says, “our history contains many more positive times than negative times with great stages of growth often emerging following tragedy and conflict.”

Keep danger in perspective

The circumstances surrounding Jill Meagher’s death have fanned fearful thoughts of “it could happen to anyone”.  While it’s perfectly reasonable to take precautions around your personal safety and those of your loved ones, it is worth remembering that “we have a tendency to believe events that have a great impact on our lives happen with greater frequency than they really do.”

The probability that you or someone you know will be the victim of a violent crime is very unlikely.  To believe otherwise can lead to persistent and unhelpful anxiety.  Galloway advises to “remain alert to dangers, but free from constant worries that [you] will be harmed.”

Look out for negative reactions

Some people do not experience traumatic reactions to events until 3 months after an event occurs.  Galloway advises to be alert “for anxiety reactions manifested as chronic irritability, persistent worries about safety for themselves and others, avoidance of situations that arouse anxiety, and limited concentration on usual activities.”

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, then seek advice from a counsellor or a psychologist about how to cope.

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