Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

America Attacked

Mental stress normal
in the face of horror,
experts say

If you need help

By Diana Leone

You wake up crying. You have flashbacks of the plane crashing into the World Trade Center. You can't shake a feeling of doom. You can't eat or can't sleep. You jump when someone shuts the door.

It's normal, health professionals say, and it's OK to seek professional help if symptoms persist.

"Whatever we're experiencing is a normal reaction of normal people to abnormal events," says Malina Kaulukukui, program support services chief for the Adult Mental Health Division of the state Health Department.

Kaulukukui is among professionals trained in "critical incident stress debriefing" -- a structured intervention method that helps people cope with the aftermath of disasters.

The Health Department will be backing up the Red Cross and the Education Department in providing this service to individuals and groups as needed. Red Cross is the lead agency in disaster situations, even at a distance, Kaulukukui says.

American Red Cross spokeswoman Cassandra Ely says the agency will be offering referrals and counseling 24 hours a day for the foreseeable future. About 30 people were taking calls steadily through the day yesterday.

Dr. Asam J. Kuhio, medical director at Kahi Mohala, agrees that the magnitude of the terrorist tragedy in New York and Washington, D.C., "affects us all in one way or another."

"How we approach the situation will influence how others around us will handle the situation," Kuhio says, especially children who may not be able to express their feelings.

Kuhio suggests limiting young children's exposure to TV accounts of the tragedy -- and being available for them. Be honest with them but don't give too much information for their age, he says.

Adults should "actively seek out their support group -- spouse, partner, people with whom we work, play golf, have tea, our friends -- and talk and share their feelings," Kuhio advises. That's where you can vent your own fears.

Honolulu psychiatrist Suzanne Hammer calls the events of yesterday "an attack on the heart and soul and brains of our country."

"The main thing is that people need to know that they're going to go through a grief reaction from the tremendous loss. This can have elements of shock, denial, sadness, anger, bargaining and acceptance. All those feelings, thoughts and various reactions will come and go, over and over, for various lengths of time," Hammer says.

For people who have lost friends or relatives in the attack, the grief is intensely personal. But for the rest of American society, "this is a tremendous symbolic loss," Kuhio says.


If you need help

Talk to friends and family, see See your physician, counselor, minister or helping professional. Or call one of these agencies:

Contact Red Cross Family Reunion/Inquiry Service: 734-2101 (24 hours, for all islands)
Oahu Community Mental Health Center: 832-5770
Hawaii Community Mental Health Center: 974-4300
Kauai Community Mental Health Center: 274-3190
Maui Community Mental Health Center: 984-2150
Queen's Hospital: Daily 3 p.m. stress debriefings at the hospital and individual counseling. Call 547-4401.

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin