Sharing Grief, Shock on the WebMD Message Boards
Everyone handles grief differently, and online it's possible to connect with others -- people who feel the same sense of the crisis -- and give each other support, says Haun. "It's the same reason why Vietnam War vets, why cancer patients get together. You find people who truly understand what you're going through. I can try to understand, but I'm not exactly like you."
Venting your fears, your concerns, "is very, very therapeutic," says David Feinberg, MD, medical director of UCLA's neuropsychiatric and behavioral health services division.
"This sense of being heard, of sharing pain, makes you feel like you're not alone," he tells WebMD.
"For those of us not directly or physically affected by the tragedy, the biggest loss is our sense of safety," Feinberg says. "That's obviously been shattered. The Internet is one way people have found to cope. People want to vent, be heard."
For some, message boards offer an important safety zone, he says. "It's a great opportunity for people to share vulnerability, yet remain anonymous. You can test the waters, see if what you say is accepted. So message boards, chat rooms, provide entrance into a type of group setting that can be helpful."
However, he cautions, don't rely solely on message boards for advice. "Anyone having signs of anxiety or depression -- serious sleep or weight changes, inability to experience pleasure or a heightened startle response, inability to take care of activities of daily living -- should seek professional help," Feinberg says.
And "anyone directly affected by this tragedy should seek professional counseling," he tells WebMD.
Such tragedies have a ripple effect that extends further than might seem obvious, says Feinberg. "Maybe there's an 8-year-old girl living in Cleveland. Her father may be a firefighter. On TV they're talking about firefighters. He's been gone a few days, hasn't come home yet. She doesn't understand what's going on.
"The effects of trauma can be immense, and can drastically change way of life," says Feinberg. "Kids are very perceptive. When there's no karate practice, when mom and dad are acting different, they know things aren't right."
Go to message boards, to chat rooms, "to check in, get your bearings," then move on, Haun tells WebMD. "At some point, you need to turn outward, look beyond yourself, find ways to help like donating blood. When you get to that other-centered orientation, then you're in a healthier mode."