When something bad happens in the world, like natural disasters, war or terrorism, it might become all you see in the news and social media. How you react is unique to you: it’s normal if you feel really upset, and it’s equally as normal if it doesn’t affect you at all. If you or someone you know is feeling sad about what’s happened, here’s what you can do to help.
Reacting to the death of strangers
There isn’t a right or a wrong way to react to death. Many people experience grief when they hear about the death of people they don’t know personally, whether that’s a single person or a larger number, and even when the lives of animals are lost. And many others feel nothing. Everyone feels differently, and that’s okay.
If you’re experiencing grief when hearing about the death of strangers, it’s probably because you feel some kind of connection to them. For some, it’s an empathetic response to feel pain because other people are feeling pain.
Even though what happened doesn’t impact you directly, it’s okay to feel for someone else’s loss.
Why am I so sad about something that doesn’t affect me?
Regardless of whether you know the person or people who died or not, what you do know is that there are loved ones out there whose lives have just been flipped upside down. There are families who never got to say goodbye or friends who are wondering if they’re okay.
You might also be feeling:
In many cases, lives were lost because of something that didn’t need to happen. You might be feeling angry about this - at people who caused it to happen or people who could’ve prevented it from happening.
You could also be angry in general and when what’s happened isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s hard to direct that anger. Get some ways to cope when things out of your control happen overseas.
You might also be feeling guilty. Also known as ‘survivor’s guilt’, this is the guilt felt when you survive something that others did not. This could happen, for example, if a natural disaster happens in your country and lives were lost, but you’ve survived.
What can I do about it?
Accept that it’s real grief you’re feeling
You’re not being silly, all grief is valid. Take 10-15 minutes in a private space to feel your grief. You can give yourself this time to express any feelings you’ve stored up. You can cry, draw, pray, meditate, write, or simply sit and think.
Doing this daily for as long as you’re feeling down can help you to move forward, as you’ll eventually become less and less focused on what has happened as you process it. It doesn’t mean that you’ve forgotten what happened or the people lost, it just means that you don’t feel as overwhelmingly sad as you did before.
Talk to someone you trust
If you’re upset, chances are your friends are, too. Ask how they’re doing, and talk it over with them. Talking to a friend or family member that you trust will also give you the opportunity to talk through what’s happened. Getting another perspective or just getting your thoughts out can help you process what’s happened.
Take a break and filter your news and social media
Sometimes seeing the never-ending stream of tributes or bad news coverage can be overwhelming. It’s okay to temporarily switch off to give yourself a break. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care, and can help you refocus and figure out what you can do to help.
If you feel up for it, you can also look critically at how the news is reporting about what happened, and whether this is making you feel worse. Try and look for sources that aren’t sensationalised, and follow accounts that aren’t full of dramatised images and stories.
Getting an unbiased view of the facts can help you process the bad news better. Learn more about why critical thinking with the news is important.
Write it down
Putting your thoughts on paper can help you clarify how you’re feeling and make it easier to process. You can also track how you’re feeling over time and record any strategies that helped you to feel better, so that you remember them for the next time you’re feeling down.
Do something to help, like volunteer or donate
Helping a situation get better can be really great for your mental health. Feeling active can give you back your sense of control, and help you process the difficult emotions surrounding grief.
You can research ways that you could donate or volunteer to a relevant cause. For example, if a natural disaster has happened, you could donate time or resources to help survivors rebuild their lives. If someone has died as a result of discrimination, you could volunteer for a local support group. If you can’t donate or volunteer, you could share how people can offer their support on your social media, to spread awareness.
No action is too small and you can make a difference.
Remember to take care of yourself
It’s easy to get caught up in negative emotions. While letting yourself feel the grief will allow you to process it better, it’s also important that you still take care of yourself and do things you enjoy. You could watch a funny TV show you like, cook a nice meal, go for some fresh air and take a walk, play with a pet or get stuck into a game with some mates.
Allow yourself to do things you enjoy. It doesn’t mean that you’re dismissing the bad things that have happened - it just means that you’re taking care of yourself so you can move forward in a healthy way.
What can I do if I’m still grieving after a while?
If your feelings of sadness don’t improve, or you feel like they’re starting to interrupt your life, some extra support might help. A professional can help you to work through those feelings and a good place to start is your local GP. If you need to talk to someone right now, try these 24/7 hotlines:
- Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800)
- Lifeline (13 11 14)
What can I do now?
- Learn about how you can cope when things happen outside of your control overseas
- Learn more about loss and grief.
- Read about some common ways people respond to death and loss.