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How to Cope with Grief in Wake of Attack at Ariana Grande Show

Following the Manchester bombing that killed 22 and injured 50—many of whom were women and girls—many are struggling to cope. We spoke to psychiatrists about the grief process for such a tragedy.
Photo by Oli Scarff via Getty Images

Olivia Campbell was a 15-year-old rising star. She had plans to study singing in college, and had already performed on Britain's Got Talent twice. On Monday night, she attended the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester with her best friend Adam. It was a treat for his birthday, and the pair of fans had been giddy about the show for weeks.

After the concert was over, Olivia called her mom to thank her for the tickets and to tell her she loved her. It would be the last words Charlotte, her mom, would ever hear from her daughter. Olivia was one of the 22 people killed in a suicide bombing, which ISIS has claimed responsibility for, on May 22. More than 50 people, including Adam, were injured in the blast.


Offering a glimpse at what the scene was like at Manchester Arena, one concert-goer told Manchester Evening News that after the pop star—who has since suspended tour stops for her album Dangerous Woman—finished her last song, "there was an explosion behind us at the back of the arena. We saw young girls with blood on them, everyone was screaming and people were running. There was lots of smoke."

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While details from the incident are still emerging, what's clear is that this act of terrorism largely affected young girls and women—even those who weren't in attendance at Grande's recent performance. One girl in Scotland tweeted: "i don't feel safe in my own city anymore and it will take a long time for me to feel safe again. i'd be honestly lying if i told you i wasn't scared to actually leave my house because i'm physically terrified. in fact i tell you something, i'm lying in my house, in bed, and i'm terrified, who should be scared in their own home, NOBODY."

Another young woman in London had expressed similar fears online: "Manchester attack has scared me more than any other terrorist act," she tweeted. "All I can think about is those poor kids who went to a gig&never came home. I'm so disgusted and heartbroken and shaken. Just can't get over it."

According to a report on Slate, Grande's "live concerts are largely populated by tween and teenage girls and their moms. By staging the attack at a Grande show, the perpetrator or perpetrators chose to target children who may or may not have had an adult around to help them through an emergency situation."


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In the aftermath of this, or any, traumatic event is the question of how people cope. According to a 2015 study, family and friends who experience the death of a loved one who was murdered are more likely to develop traumatic stress responses, such as depression, complicated grief, and substance abuse, through their grief.

The people who were close to the Manchester attack will likely be impacted physically, emotionally, and psychologically, says Marilyn Mendoza, a New Orleans-based psychologist who specializes in grief, trauma, and women's issues. "Initially, people are in shock and denial and of course they feel threatened, anxious, and frightened. Some people will not be able to go out in large crowds," she tells Broadly. "Many of these girls will have to get into some type of counseling to help them get over this. It's a lot to comprehend."

If anybody tells you not to think about it, don't listen to them because there's no way to not think about it.

For people who weren't at the concert, the incident may drive home the idea that women and girls are more vulnerable to being attacked, Mendoza says. "I think the important thing to do is if they're not going to see some kind of counselor or therapist is to talk about it—talk about it as much as you can and get it out of you. You need a good support system to help you deal with this. If anybody tells you not to think about it, don't listen to them because there's no way to not think about it."


Candace Neufeld, a counselor at Women's Health Clinic in Manitoba, suggests young women connect with their parents, teachers, or other older people to help them "get a sense of the bigger picture of politics and how things can swing back and forth or how things change."

Donna Schuurman, senior director of advocacy and training at The Dougy Center, a nonprofit organization striving to help grieving children, agrees. "Find people who are supportive of you," she says, "and remember that grieving takes a lot out of us physically. All of those things about getting enough sleep and finding safe people to talk to and be with, drinking lots of liquids, are important for keeping ourselves healthy in this very real grief and pain."

"Allow yourself to feel what you feel," Schuurman continues. "These are rational concerns and this is a horrible event and we have to decide how we're going to live our lives in response to these events that have happened. It's about finding balance: so, yes, recognizing the sadness, the pain and horror but not allowing that to control our own lives and actions. "

People who feel some distress about Monday's attack might also want to consider their media consumption, Neufeld says. "As a therapist, I would talk to young people about their media sources: what they're looking at, what they're reading, what their messages are. If you feel some kind of distress, you may want to take a break." Different people may respond differently to what's in the news, she explains, but if a person finds they're experiencing "high levels of fear" rather than a better understanding of what's happening in the world, they may want to reassess how often they go online.

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If in fact Grande's concert was targeted for her mostly female audience, that knowledge could offer some perspective for young women, Neufeld says. "I think naming these kinds of forces that are at play in the world and that are real helps to name something that young people are struggling to name themselves," she says. "There could be some element of relief in having those things articulated."