This piece was originally published on LinkedIn's Pulse on June 14, 2016.
I want to help, but I'm not sure what to say..."
"I want to help, but I don't know how to help..."
"I want to help, but I don't have anything to offer..."
Can you relate to any of these statements since your first learned of the Orlando mass shooting? If you answered "yes," know that you aren't alone. One of the most common themes I've observed over the last decade as a disaster psychologist is that most people want to help but don't know how.
Here are 5 practical tips for helping a loved one after the Orlando tragedy:
- Meet basic needs. This can something as simple as bringing someone something to eat to helping someone feel safe.
- Foster connection. When tragedy strikes, we need to know that we aren't alone in our suffering. Spend extra time with those in need. Sit with them, walk with them, and be in community with them.
- Listen without being pushy. You don't have to be a psychologist to help. You just need to be willing to put the other person first and to truly listen to their story.
- Give accurate information. I read an interview with one of the Pulse survivors who said he remembered hearing gun shots and the next thing he knew he woke up at the hospital. When mass traumas occur it's common for survivors to have gaps in what they remember. There's also normally a lot of misinformation that goes around. You can help by trying to find answers.
- Know when, where, and how to refer your loved one for professional support. If you notice your loved one starts talking about hurting themselves or someone else it's time to refer to a professional mental health professional. Other times you might want to refer is when your loved one starts engaging in risky behaviors or just seems like they aren't themselves anymore.
For more helpful information, read my full article in The Washington Post, Tips for Helping a Loved One After a Tragedy, from a Christian Disaster Expert.
Dr. Jamie Aten is the founder and co-director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. He is the co-author of the Disaster Ministry Handbook and co-editor of Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy for Trauma. Follow on twitter @drjamieaten.