BACKGROUND: People that experience a trauma, might also experience problems in their social relationships. However, how witnessing a terrorist attack influences social relationships, is still understudied. This is important, as currently there is more focus on the individual's mental health, and not on how this mental health can impact the individual's social relations. In this study, the impact of the experience of a terrorist attack on social relationships was studied.
METHODS: In-depth interviews were conducted, with 31 directly exposed people during the 22/03/2016 attacks in Belgium. Data were analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis.
RESULTS: Three factors related to the impact on social relationships were found. First, participants felt that they had changed. This includes feeling more aggressive, guilty, distrusting, or psychosomatic factors, such as migraine attacks, which can hamper social visits. Second, the reactions of others on the participant's expressing their feelings and behavior also caused participants to not feel understood by their social relationships. Third, due the first two factors, participants coped in different ways (e.g. remaining silent, avoiding certain triggers), which in turn caused their social relationships to change.
CONCLUSIONS: The social relationships of witnesses of terrorist attacks can be hampered due to both themselves as well as the reaction of others. More awareness seems to be needed on the possible mental health consequences of terrorist attacks for witnesses.
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- Mental health
- Social Connectedness
- Social support
- Traumatic stress