Viewers of fatal hostage drama need counselling
Professional psychological help should be available to the general public in the immediate aftermath of crises such as the Manila hostage tragedy, say doctors.
At a seminar on psychological care yesterday titled 'Lessons Learnt from the Manila Hostage Incident', clinical psychologists said the tragedy had been traumatic not only for those directly involved, but for the many more who watched the drama unfold live on television.
'It affects not just the victims and their families but also the many observers through the media with such vivid and continuous images broadcast live on TV,' Sally Leung Wing-wah, an educational psychologist with the Education Bureau, said.
Leung said that since the incident, in which eight Hong Kong tourists were killed on August 23 in the full glare of live media broadcasts, psychologists in the bureau had discussed what could be done to address its impact on mental health in the community.
'We estimated that many ordinary people who have no intimate relationship with the victims may still feel unhappy after witnessing with their own eyes how lives can be lost in the blink of an eye,' Leung said.
Although schools were in the middle of summer recess at the time of the incident, the bureau immediately contacted and advised school heads across the city that they should identify students at risk of psychological problems and refer them to social workers or clinical psychologists when classes resumed a week later.
Bonnie So Yuen-han, assistant secretary general at the Hong Kong Red Cross, said more attention should be paid to the psychological impact major incidents have on ordinary members of the public rather than the victims and their family members alone.
Together with the Hong Kong Psychological Society, the group set up a support hotline the day after the Manila tragedy. A total of 736 calls were received during the line's five-day operation.
'Originally, we only planned to keep the hotline open for three days but it was extended due to the amount of calls,' So said.
Among the callers, 427 said they felt sad, while 196 said they could not sleep after seeing the tragedy.