Originally posted on International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies Blog
Posted 12 January 2016 by Colin Gallagher, PhD and Karen Block, PhD
A compelling footnote to the recent Paris attacks was Facebook’s activation of its “Safety check” feature, which encouraged and enabled users thought to be in Paris to let their contacts know that they were safe. Ideally, this application served an important purpose: to dispel the agonizing worry associated with uncertainty about the welfare of a loved one who might be caught up in a dangerous situation. Of course, the experience of separation is a pressing issue across many types of disasters and mass emergencies. Given the speed with which these events can arise, people can be caught apart from their loved ones during their daily routine, or separation may even be planned, such as if one person has an emergency responder role while another evacuates. In any case, being apart from one’s family or closest support network during moments of great danger represents a personally important experience for many people who endure disasters.
While we generally accept that disaster-related separation is a prominent part of the overall disaster experience, questions remain. Does everyone react the same way in all dangerous situations, or do some cope better with separation and being alone during times of danger? If and when we’re reunified with loved ones, do we simply return to our normal state of functioning? Or can this experience of separation have a longer-lasting effect on mental health, even when a loved one is found to be safe? In addition to uncertainty and anxiety about the safety of those we care about, separation might frustrate fulfilment of one’s need for support and protection during a threatening situation. On the other hand, for some, separation under dangerous circumstances could be a welcomed situation (relatively speaking), allowing a person to concentrate on just their own actions, instead of having to worry about themselves and loved ones as well.
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