Supporting a victim of terrorism
This guidance is for family, friends, peers and the community surrounding victims of terrorism to help them support someone who has been affected by a terrorist attack. Developed by the UK government in partnership with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, it aims to give you a greater understanding of the needs of someone who has experienced a terrorist attack so that you are more able to accommodate them. It includes:
- how your colleague, friend or family member might be affected
- what you can do to help them
- signs to look out for that indicate they might need more support
- where to look for further help
We hope that this guidance will empower you to better support an affected individual to cope and inform you of the indicative signs that they might need more help.
It is also important for you as part of a victim of terrorism’s personal network to look after yourself when in such a supporting role. We recognise those closest to a victim of terrorism can be affected in numerous ways. Therefore, this guidance is also designed to help you remain physically and mentally healthy throughout this difficult period too.
If you or someone close to you has been affected by terrorism, emotional and practical support is available to you. For further information, please see the Support for victims of terrorism page.
How you can help
There are many ways in which those supporting victims of terrorism can make their lives easier during a very difficult time. Think carefully about what your strengths are and how you can best support someone affected by terrorism.
Be prepared to offer support after the immediate aftermath. Victims will often need support for months and years after an attack. It’s important not to assume that they are OK - continue to offer support and be someone a victim can reach out to.
Think about specific things you can do to help. We may not all be good at providing emotional support or saying something meaningful but small things like driving someone to the hospital can be useful.
Making meals can be very helpful as victims often do not have the time or mental energy to shop or cook in the immediate aftermath. Food that can be put straight into the oven to heat or in the freezer for later are the most helpful.
Financial donations are often helpful to victims and their families and can alleviate some of the financial stress of the aftermath of an attack. If this is inappropriate, help them to identify charitable funds or government support.
Say something simple and heartfelt and let them know that you are thinking of them. The importance of showing support and compassion cannot be understated.
What to avoid
- try to comfort victims and their families by showing anger towards perpetrators and discussing political causes etc
- say things like ‘this experience will make you a better person’ or ‘everything happens for a reason’
- be afraid of talking to a victim - you may think it’s best to say nothing at all rather than to say the wrong thing, however, a quick ‘I’m thinking about you’ is better than pretending the victim is not there
- rather than asking ‘let me know if I can help’, it may be better to be more specific and offer to help with something in particular - it can be difficult to identify needs with so much going on
- ask them to recount or relive their experience or ask them questions about the attack unless they want to talk about it
How are people affected by terrorist attacks?
Victims of a terrorist attack may have suffered a bereavement, been physically injured, or experienced emotional or psychological trauma.
There is no single pattern of response or recovery after a terrorist attack – every person will have a different experience. It’s important that you treat your colleague, friend or family member with compassion and respect. Listen to their needs and check in on their recovery regularly.
People who have been affected by a terrorist attack may show feelings that others find hard to understand. These are natural in the aftermath of a terrorist attack and can settle in time. Feelings can include:
- fear, shock, horror and helplessness
- anger that this has happened
- loss of control, of being a target and unable to control their emotional response
- that they might have done something to lessen the trauma or avoid the attack
- guilt for surviving when others did not
- grief for those who have died
If the affected individual is still experiencing distressing feelings after the first 4 weeks or so it is important for them to visit their GP to access NHS mental health support.
The NHS has produced a leaflet on dealing with trauma.
Someone who has witnessed a terror attack, or the aftermath of an attack, may be seriously affected. It is important for those around them to understand that what they have witnessed may have a profound effect on them and the way they view the world.
The charity Victim Support has a free confidential support line and live chat service which provides support for those affected as well as local services. It may be helpful for a victim, or their personal network, to talk to Victim Support’s trained professionals about their experience.
Witnesses of a terrorist incident in the UK may also be eligible for compensation through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. Call the helpline on 0300 003 3601 for more information about eligibility and applying to the scheme.
Peer support groups can be helpful to talk with others who have similar experiences or a more in depth understanding of a terrorist attack, away from friends or family. Faith and community groups may be able to offer comfort or support to a victim in a broader but inclusive setting. Faith may also help an affected individual work through their experiences by finding a new perspective.
Support through bereavement
Losing someone close to you is never easy and it may be difficult to find the right words to talk about it. It may be useful to understand the different stages of grief someone may go through and how this affects how they feel. The NHS has produced a leaflet on coping with bereavement, available on the NHS website.
If you think that someone may need further support, Cruse Bereavement run local specialist services that could be of help.
There is unfortunately a lot of paperwork that comes along with the passing away of a loved one. Offering to help a victim fill out forms and apply for relevant support can be a useful way of lessening the burden. Victim Support Homicide Service can help you to navigate this system.
Losing a loved one may also mean there is an extra financial burden on the family. Advice on how to access financial support is available on the Support for victims of terrorism website, including accessing both charitable funds and government support through welfare and compensation.
Supporting an injured victim
If someone you know has been physically injured following a terrorist attack, they are often dealing with this plus the mental trauma of the incident whilst managing their day-to-day activities. Serious or life-changing injuries may also mean a period of adjustment, particularly if a victim has to change a lifestyle they once took for granted.
There are simple things that those around someone who has been injured can do to help make their lives a little easier both during the immediate aftermath of the incident and in the months and years after. Listen to what they tell you that they need and check in on their recovery regularly to see if there are any easy adjustments that can be made to their routine or home to make things more accessible.
The NHS website provides information on the kinds of social support services available for people with a care need, such as a temporary or permanent disability, and for their carers. The range of services covered includes:
- help in your home or a care home
- community activities
- day centres
- home adaptations
- residential care
- financial support
- information and advisory services
- support for carers
Support for carers
If you are caring for someone who has been injured, it is important to make sure you are looking after yourself as someone who has also been affected by an act of terrorism. Carer’s UK provides support for carers and has an online forum for carers to connect and talk.
Your local authority can give you a carer’s assessment which could include support if you are an unpaid or family carer.
The Princess Royal Trust for Carers is the largest provider of support services for carers in the UK. It provides advocacy and information about support services for carers. Their website includes a discussion board to connect you to other carers across the country.
Information on support available can be found on the Support for victims of terrorism website.
Supporting children and young people
When a terrorist attack occurs, children will hear about it in different ways, some of which may be inaccurate, untrue, or based on rumour or speculation. Wherever they happen, events may create feelings of anxiety and fear that children can find hard to articulate.
Childline is a free, private and confidential service for those under 19 in the UK, helping them deal with any issue which causes distress or concern. They can be contacted on 0800 1111.
The NSPCC helpline can provide parents and carers with advice on how to speak to a child about a terrorist incident. This is also the number to dial if you are worried that a child is being radicalised or at risk of radicalisation: 0808 800 5000.
Children who have been affected by a terrorist incident are likely to be affected differently to adults and therefore could display symptoms of post-traumatic stress in unfamiliar ways. It is important to understand the signs that a child may be finding it difficult to process what they have been through.
Common responses to trauma seen in children are:
- poor concentration
- obsessive behaviour
- denial – ‘it doesn’t matter’
- insecurity and decreased independence
- frustration and impatience
- reliving the trauma, often manifesting in repetitive play
- misplaced anger towards those closest, such as family and peers
Resources for teachers
The Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Association has guidance and resources that provide practical suggestions for ways that teachers can structure questioning, discussion or further learning about terrorist incidents. There are resources available for:
The We Love Manchester Emergency Fund has developed an animation for professionals within education as an introduction to trauma and recovery, and to facilitate the work they do in supporting students who have been affected by trauma.
Guidance for schools and colleges
The Department for Education has developed a Terrorist Incident Response template for education leaders to refer to, in the event of a terrorist incident that impacts upon a school or college.
If you need advice on where to get further help, contact the Counter-Extremism Helpline:
020 7340 7264
Monday to Friday
9am to 5pm
Schools and colleges should approach their awarding organisations for specific advice, including on applications for special consideration for those affected by a terrorist attack. Ofqual has issued guidance on exams.
Approaching mental health support
Talking therapies can help with many difficult life problems including coping with traumatic events. Therapy offers a safe, confidential place to talk to a trained professional about emotions and concerns which may result from these. It can be hard to know how to support someone going through a difficult time. You may feel that they need help beyond what you can provide. There are some tips below on how you can best do this.
Starting a conversation about offering help can be difficult. You could try asking simple questions, such as:
- I’ve been worried about you. Would you like to talk?
- I care about you and want to help. Is there something I can help with?
- it seems like you’re going through a difficult time. Can I help you to find the right help?
Talking with someone they trust and sharing their problem can be positive for a victim. It can help them feel less alone and offer a different perspective on their problem.
If a friend or relative is struggling with a problem, it can have a big impact on you. Supporting them and letting them know you are there can bring you together. You could try:
- expressing your concern and reassuring them that you care
- asking questions, listening to their ideas and being responsive
- reminding them that help is available and that problems can be solved
- finding out what they feel would help and helping them to get any care they want
- offering practical help such as making a phone call or by going with them to their GP
Though it may be obvious to you that someone you know needs professional help, there are many reasons why they may refuse or be reluctant to do so. You may feel frustrated, but it is important to try to not make assumptions about how they feel and to be respectful.
Keeping yourself and them focused on positive things can be helpful when having difficult discussions. When doing so, it is important to adjust the discussion based on their needs. Looking out for their reactions and discussing the topic on their terms when they feel safe and comfortable can be helpful.
Bear in mind that some people who have been very independent may not feel able to ask for your help; others may be confused and unable to identify what they need. It is important, however, for people to regain control over their own lives as soon as possible. You can help most by offering help where it is clearly needed but having the sensitivity and awareness to allow the person to take over managing their own needs when they feel ready and able.
Some simple practical help you can provide in the immediate aftermath that makes a large difference to everyday life include:
- offer help with looking after dependents, such as children and pets
- support the victim with everyday tasks like transport, cooking, and cleaning
- help with administrative tasks following the attack, such as making telephone calls, finding resources, obtaining news about or searching for relatives and friends who may also be affected
Handling media attention
Those affected by terrorism may be the subject of interest from the media. Whilst some find communicating with the media a positive experience, the attention can sometimes be overwhelming. To help someone who is struggling with media attention, you could:
- get in touch with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues to let them know the level of engagement with the media that the victim is comfortable with
- offer to look after their phone and filter their calls for a while
- draft a statement with the victim that you can release on their behalf, or agree answers to questions that you will answer on their behalf
- help check that social media privacy settings are secure or assist in deleting content that the victim does not want to be shared with the wider public
If you are approached by the media to speak about the experience of someone you know who has been affected by terrorism, it is a good idea to ask the victim how they would like you to engage with this request first.
There are many organisations that may be useful to a victim of terrorism and their families.
The Support for victims of terrorism website provides comprehensive information for victims of terrorism including: helplines and support services, mental and physical health support and accessing financial assistance.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy provides details of counsellors and psychotherapists in your area.
Cruse Bereavement Support provides counselling, support, information, advice, education and training services to the friends and relatives of someone who has died, to help them understand their grief and cope with their loss.
Mind is a mental health charity providing advice and support to empower anyone experiencing mental health problems, as well as their friends and family. Information includes symptoms and treatment for different disorders, including post traumatic stress disorder. Mind has branches around the country and a list can be found on their website.
Relate provides information and support to help people with their relationships including face-to-face counselling, online and telephone counselling for people at any age and any stage of couple, family and social relationships.
The Samaritans provide confidential, unbiased emotional support, 24 hours a day, for people who feel distressed, desperate or suicidal. Helpline: 08457 90 90 90
Victim Support is an independent charity dedicated to supporting victims of traumatic incidents in England and Wales. Its purpose is to provide specialist help to support people to cope and recover to the point where they feel they are back on track with their lives.
They also have a free 24/7 support line which can be contacted at any time on 0808 168 9111 or via live chat by visiting https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/live-chat.