An Open Letter: dealing with emotional trauma after the Manchester attack

An Open Letter: dealing with emotional trauma after the Manchester attack


It was a normal Monday night in Manchester, but something special was happening. At Manchester Arena, a concert stadium that holds 21,000 people, Ariana Grande was performing! The excitement that thousands of children, teenagers and adults must have been feeling!

Just after the end of the wonderful concert, when everyone was feeling elated, it was all torn away. All those lives changed in a second.

Like everyone else (other than the warped supporters of this kind of extremism) I am outraged by this callous, coldblooded slaughter and maiming of innocents. Behaviour like this bewilders me. I can’t comprehend the impact it’ll have on everyone, mentally and emotionally.

You don’t need to have been directly involved to feel an overwhelming sadness today. I can’t get this senseless violence out of my head. All those innocent people dead and injured… and so many, so young. WHY?!

Like the people who have taken to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook etc today who are feeling angry, really emotional, disturbed and sad, I’m oscillating between these feelings and emotions. I am livid. I am upset.

Left unchecked, these feelings can be damaging.

One can barely begin to imagine how those people directly affected by this cowardly act must feel today, and how they will feel in the days, weeks and months ahead. Their lives will be changed forever. It’s no real consolation, but do we live in a society where we can readily access post-traumatic support of all kinds.

Tragedies like the Manchester attack have a wider impact on society as a whole, and many people will be mentally and emotionally affected, too – but clearly to a much lesser extent than those directly involved. These people may also need some help.


Responding to a traumatic incident

There are more and more of today’s type of attacks around the world now. We’re used to seeing them played out via TV, radio, newspapers and social media. That does not make us immune from natural reactions to traumatic incidents.

We get good at dealing with grief, with sadness. I say ‘we’ as it really is collective. We’re responding to the Manchester attack in the same types of way. Many people are suffering from one degree to another – those inside the arena, witnesses, the families and friends of those involved, police officers, ambulance paramedics, members of the public both on site and watching from home.


How trauma works

Over the coming days, people are going to start feeling things they may not expect to feel.

People may be experiencing and feeling many things
  • Fear: of losing control; of a similar event happening again and your ability to cope
  • Sadness: for deaths, injuries and losses
  • Shame: for having been seen to be helpless, emotional and needing others; for not having reacted in the way you would have wished
  • Guilt: for not having done more at the incident, or not being allowed to
  • Anger: at what has happened; at whoever caused it; at the injustice and senselessness of it all; at the lack of proper understanding by others
  • Memories: of the incident which may recur; flashbacks


That’s how trauma works. Your response to it is totally normal. You are normal.

Perhaps you’re not troubled yet; maybe your children seem fine right now. There is no timescale as to if or when traumatic events affect you. It may hit in a week; maybe next year. All I know is that for most people, it hits you eventually, so you best deal with it now.


Feelings of anger and aggression

Those affected by a traumatic incident sometimes become aggressive as a result of not feeling safe. If you’re feeling this way, understand that this is a transient reaction to the situation, and it’s extremely important that you don’t act on these feelings. Other people being violent never gives you an excuse to be violent in return. Talk to someone. It’s a huge help.


Appropriate and effective support

I’ve carried out Stress Audits, led Peer Support training, completed Trauma Risk Management Practitioner and Manager courses, spoken to families of people killed in incidents, and met with police officers who have just delivered a “death message” to a family.

I’ll be honest. In 14 years in my field, there are 2 things that I have found to be most effective – and they are the most simple

  1. Affected people need someone to talk to, whether that is a parent, a friend, a therapist, an Employee Assistance Program counsellor, their manager, their tutor or to their religion / spiritual beliefs. Be a person who lets people know that they can talk to you. If you’re an employer, let people know what support you offer. If you’re a line manager, tell your people that they can talk to you – or who they can talk to, if not you
  2. Schools / employers / persons responsible for looking out for those affected need to have measures in place to deal with stress and trauma. This could be in the form of school counsellors, online advice, or simply opening the conversation with young people about how they’re feeling


It is not a sign of weakness to seek help. The strong ones are those who take responsibility for their wellbeing and realise their own limitations.


Nature has a way of healing by allowing feelings to come to the surface. Don’t fight those feelings. In time you will need to think about and talk about what has happened. The emotional and physical support of those around you and sharing with others who have been through a similar experience can be of great comfort.

That is where schools and organisations can help by having effective trauma support services.
Emotional survival is so important for us, and for our loved ones. Are you looking after yourself and, in turn, being looked after by your school or organisation?


To leave you with a positive thought, this afternoon, Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens was packed full, with people listening to a busker singing. A particularly resonant song performed was The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”. Now if that isn’t a defiant British attitude, I don’t know what is!


If you need to get in touch, email or phone Sarah on +44 7791 97 82 44.

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