Emergency Psychology: The Burden Of Delivering Bad News

On the scene
On the scene
Anne-Ev Ustorf

MUNICH â€" Traffic collisions. Heart attacks. Even terrorist attacks. Tragedies strike every day, tearing people away from their loved ones forever. But events like this have a collateral impact beyond the victim’s next of kin. They also affect the messengers, the proverbial bearers of bad news.

People with certain chosen specific vocations â€" police officers, for example â€" are particularly responsible for delivering this kind of heart-wrenching information. In Germany, if a person dies outside of his or her residence, police are automatically notified. It's their job, then, to inform the deceased's loved ones.

Paramedics and other first responders at the scene of an accident have similar responsibiities, as do human resources managers in some cases, particularly in the risky construction industry, where work-related accidents are not unusual. Human resource heads also have the unenviable task of informing employees that they've been fired or laid off.

All of these occupational groups face the challenge of having to convey these messages in a gentle, sensitive but also clear manner, though they typically do not have the proper training to do so. Few apprenticeships or advanced training regimes teach psychological first aid. People who want this kind of specialized training must seek it out on their initiative â€" from charitable organizations or emergency services.

A shoulder to cry on

Franziska Lipka has been an ER (emergency room) doctor for 15 years at the Hamburg University Hospital in Eppendorf. Traffic collisions, heart attacks and brawls are part of her daily routine. Sometimes she quite literally saves people's lives. But she says the emotional side of the work â€" standing by patients and their families in critical situations â€" is at least as important as the medical treatment she provides.

Lipka describes her job, in fact, as "psychology with a dash of medicine." And yet she was never trained in the former. All of her experience communicating with seriously ill patients and their families comes from real-life situations, from her work in the hospital or riding in ambulances.

"I think it is very important to always be honest with the next of kin and not use any medical jargon," the 42-year-old doctor explains. "Everything I say has to be intelligible."

Lipka says that when a patient dies, she sometimes even hugs the next of kin. "I always stay with them until they can reach another relative or friend, or until the police have arrived," she explains.

New guidelines

But not every member of the emergency services is, like Franziska Lipka, able to intuitively do the right thing in a difficult situation. It was for that reason that psychologist Frank Lasogga, together with colleague Bernd Gasch, founded a discipline in the late 1980s called "emergency psychology." Their goal was to help the helpers, namely emergency services members.

"Both of us had recently been first responders at the site of an accident, and even though we're both psychotherapists, we wished we'd had a kind of manual for these difficult situations," recalls Lasogga, a psychology professor at the Technical University Dortmund. "We even went to the police. But they also said they'd never had any training."

The two psychologists decided, therefore, to develop a set of guidelines for communicating with the severely injured, victims of violence, or the next of kin of people who died unexpectedly. Messengers in these cases should, for example, make sure they've introduced themselves and are speaking with the correct person before clearly and simply stating what happened.

They should also remain with the next of kin long enough for the latter to register and digest the news, and ask questions. "Emergency psychology isn't just about psychological first aid," Lasogga says. "It's also about protecting the affected person from posttraumatic stress."

Still, many emergency service personnel are unfamiliar with such guidelines, and various offices and professions approach the issue differently, in some cases leaving it up to the individual police officers, doctors, paramedics or HR managers to seek out specialized training.

In Germany, many civil servants and emergency services workers have turned to the Red Cross for help. The organization has a special, volunteer-staffed Crisis Intervention Team, which has proven to be a real difference maker for professionals having to rush from one assignment to the next.

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]


Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.


Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.



China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.


7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

➡️


"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.


​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.

Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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