Last week’s terror attacks in India's commercial hub Mumbai are over, but the shocking images played out on television for three continuous days have made psychiatrists fear the impact on children. Specialists have sprung into action, taking distressed calls and making emergency visits to foreigners, youngsters and the parents of disturbed school children.
Psychologists worry that the traumatic images of the Mumbai blasts could have a lasting impact on children
Flames leaping out of the windows of a hotel, sounds of loud explosions and gunfire, people ducking in fear as grenades burst and commandos launching operations -- these disturbing images that flashed on television for nearly 60 hours non-stop have taken their toll on many impressionable minds.
The terror assault in Mumbai, which happened last week when a group of 10 militants laid siege to high-profile targets, including the Oberoi Trident and Taj hotels, shocked many citizens because of its sheer brazenness.
Most parents watched the dramatic unfolding of the attacks live on television without thinking of the impact on their children, who were spellbound too and picked up a new set of phrases and words.
Horrendous images with lasting impact
Although many Indian children have become inured to pictures of bomb blasts and of injured people being carried to hospitals in India and other countries over the years, the images of raging gun battles between terrorists and commandos for so long were new.
“Actually, it’s had a terrible impact already,” explains Dr Promilla Bhutani who is a child specialist. She says that in her clinic many children get up with nightmares. “This is a reality one has to face that one cannot depict such things -- they are not for general viewing.”
The “horrendous pictures” have had the “most terrible impact on youngsters from three to 14. It’s a horrific experience.”
Free counselling for the traumatised
Hospitals in Mumbai say they will offer free treatment, psychological counselling and basic diagnostic services to anybody traumatised by the live images of the attack. Calls are already pouring in.
Specialists explain that the symptoms of post-terror trauma can include numbness, guilt, a refusal to make eye contact and even an unwillingness to speak to loved ones.
The impact on “impressionable minds” can be very long-lasting says Dr Anandi Lal, a psychiatrist at the Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences: “It can lead to insecurities, depression and clingy behaviour. These sorts of things happen because of these images. Generally children outgrow these things but some of these children will bear the impact through their adulthood.”
Psychiatrists and counsellors are stressing the importance of counselling at this point, especially since this particular attack in Mumbai was so severe and went on for such a long period of time, in contrast to past terror attacks.
Now that the initial and acute shock has passed, they say, the post-terror trauma could well start to sink in.