The trauma of the Sri Lankan attack and how to support others

The wave of bombings that killed hundreds of people in Sri Lanka over the last few days, including two Australians, has brought new suffering to a country still haunted by a decades-long civil war and a history of suicide bombs.


“We are horrified by the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka and express our deepest condolences to the people of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan community in Australia, especially those who have lost family members or friends.”

Phoenix Australia’s Director Professor David Forbes.


If you have been personally affected, or are supporting family and friends who have been affected by the bombings, we hope that the following suggestions on how to cope and offer support to others may be of some assistance.


How to cope more effectively after the bombing


In the wake of terrorism, it is natural to follow the story in the media and talk about it to friends and family. But be aware that constant viewing of images or repeated checking of news and social media sites can add to distress for some people. We recommend that you limit exposure to graphic images and videos on the news and social media, especially for children.


It is important to talk with children and ask questions to learn their understanding of the event. Make sure you use age-appropriate language, ask questions about what they may have heard and listen to their concerns, and respond in a non-judgmental way.


Check in with other people that were affected. Reaching out to connect with others can be helpful to both of you.


Continue your usual life and routines as best as possible. This will not only help you to cope but will also provide a sense of security and predictability for children.


How to provide emotional support to family and friends


Your friend or family member may or may not want to talk about their experience or feelings. This is okay, it’s important not to force people to confront the event or their reactions before they are ready.


If they do want to talk, the following tips may be helpful:

  • Choose a time to talk when you won’t be interrupted, or feel rushed or tired.
  • Reassure them that distress is to be expected after what they have experienced.
  • Make another time to talk if it seems like the person is too distressed to continue.
  • Understand that talking about trauma can be painful, and the person may get upset. This is a natural part of coming to terms with their experience. Don’t feel that you have to make their distress go away.


If they don’t want to talk, you can still show your support by spending time with them, talking about other things, and doing practical things to help. Let them be alone for a while if that’s what they want, but encourage them to have company for some time each day. Becoming isolated or cutting themselves off from other people is likely to make matters worse rather than better.


For more resources visit the Recovery section of our website.


What to do if you, your friends or family are not coping


Some distress is to be expected but if you continue to feel very distressed beyond a few days, or if your distress is interfering with your usual life and routines, see your GP. Your GP can assist you and your loved ones, and refer you to services and professionals that can help.


For urgent support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for confidential 24/7 counselling and referrals. For more information on getting help visit the Find Help section of our website. 


Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay