Boston struggles to heal from emotional trauma of terror attack

Mourners embrace while taking part in a vigil for bomb victims a day after two explosions hit the Boston Marathon, in Boston, Massachusetts April 16, 2013. Credit: Reuters
Mourners embrace while taking part in a vigil for bomb victims a day after two explosions hit the Boston Marathon on April 16. Credit: Reuters

As the city recovers from the April 15 terror attack, many Bostonians may still be grappling with emotional distress, according to public health officials.

“It was a frightening event. It brought the experience of something like war to Boston,” said Deborah Allen, director of Child, Adolescent and Family Health at the Boston Public Health Commission. “Some feel sadness, even some guilt. We’ve talked to a number of people who were runners and initially felt very angry about having a year of work taken away, then very guilty for feeling deprived for walking away in tact. We’ve seen a range of emotions.”

On Tuesday, the city announced the formation of a drop-in center, which since then has offered free one-on-one and group counseling for people who were scarred by exposure to the traumatic stories and images emerging from the brutal attack.

There has been a surge of people taking advantage of the support service, Allen said, including wounded victims who are struggling with being thrust into a life of disability.

“These are huge traumatic changes,” she said. “The Mayor’s helpline has gotten an ongoing stream of calls, many from people who have been treated (for injuries) and released, but now have to deal with the psychological sequelae. For many, this is a sudden entry into the world of disability. Some people now need to adapt to a dramatic change in their life with some major impairments.”

Although it’s not unusual for people to feel emotional distress for the weeks following a traumatic event – like the Patriots Day attack – Allen recommends that those experiencing ongoing anxiety should seek medical treatment.

“It can linger. If it does, I’d say people should definitely seek assistance. Like any negative or dramatic experience, I think it unfolds over time. Immediately it may be shock, then turn into a whole set of anger and grief,” she said. “If it goes on for more than a couple of weeks, it would be wise to go to a primary care provider because they’re going to know what (help) is available.”

Friday is the last day the drop-in center will be open – from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at 729 Massachusetts Ave.

Free parking will be available at an adjacent garage, located at 35 Northampton St.

The Mayor’s Health Line — 617-534-5050 — will continue to provide free trauma counseling and support over the phone through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Groups that would like to visit the drop-in center are encouraged to call the Mayor’s Health Line ahead of their visit to make sure staff can properly accommodate them. Individual visitors do not need to call ahead.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation also maintains a Victim Assistance Call Center, which operates 24 hours a day, at 1-800-331-0075. To learn more about other forms of assistance being offered by the FBI, visit their website.


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