Psychosocial aid provided to and sought by rescue workers after the March 2016 terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium. A qualitative analysis

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk or presentation at a conference


During the terrorist attacks of 22/03/2016 in Brussels, Belgium,
hundreds of rescue workers were present or came to the sites to
give aid to the victims. However, until now, there is little
research about these first responders’ own need for aid and
support immediately after their work or later, and about how
they experienced that aid.
Using half-structured interviews, we collected data from 31
first responders including 4 nurses, 5 soldiers, 7 firefighters, 11
airport police officers and 4 Red Cross volunteers. Interviews
were transcribed, coded and analyzed by two researchers.
Generally, debriefings were organized at hoc, informal and at
the day of the event. Sometimes, an additional group
conversation was organized in the week or weeks later.
Further initiative was left to the rescue workers themselves to
find psychosocial aid, whether inside or outside their
organization. Because of many contextual factors (macho
culture, no sense of normality of reactions on traumatic
experiences, (lack of) social support, stigma of psychosocial
health, lack of understanding of those who did not experience
it...) rescue workers (mostly police officers and soldiers) often
did not find the necessary psychosocial aid. Some workers
simply accepted that they have changed due to the attacks.
Those who did search for psychological help, experience
several problems: the type of help, the financial costs, a lack of
recognition of the psychosocial problems, etc.
Psychosocial aid of first responders is often too short-term, ad
hoc, and poorly prepared and organized. Awareness of adverse
changes in health or personality can come long after the
debriefing sessions. Furthermore, the quality of the debriefings
is not always up to standard.
Main message:
Psychosocial aid must not only be aimed at the short term, and
must be better prepared and organized.
Period23 Nov 2019
Event titleEuropean Public Health Conference
Event typeConference
LocationMarseille, France
Degree of RecognitionInternational