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Sharing Grief, Shock Worldwide on Message Boards

WebMD Health News

Sept. 12, 2001 -- From homes, from offices, people all over the world are speaking out through online message boards. How could these terrorist acts have happened to us? Who is responsible? What can I tell my children? What can I tell myself?

Kaylee146 in Canada (WebMD): I can't begin to comprehend what has happened. I'm sitting here watching the television and it's like a bad movie. My question is how do we explain this to our children so they will feel safe to sleep tonight?

AnniePenny in Utah (WebMD): I can't stand to think of how many [people] are dying right now and I can't do anything to help! I feel so useless ... I live so far away from N.Y.

Summer93 in Maine (WebMD): I am with you at 3:00am unable to sleep ... shocked, scared, sad, disbelieving.

Message boards and chat rooms -- the very phenomenon of the Internet -- have indeed provided people with a new sense of community, a place for acceptance and support, says Martha Haun, PhD, associate professor of communications at the University of Houston.

"In times of crisis, you rely on the people closest to you to give you hugs, give you support," Haun tells WebMD. "It's the way we humans take care of ourselves. We call those we love, we need to hear their voices just to feel better, even if they are in no direct threat."

But the Internet gives people something they can't find anywhere else. "The magnitude of this crisis is so great that people need more support nationwide, worldwide. People feel if this could happen to the U.S., it could happen in London, Paris, anywhere."

Specialized message boards provide people a sense of support they can't get from others in their immediate world, says Haun. "People who get involved in message boards are more introspective. Right now, they're having an existential crisis, a crisis of values. Why did God let this happen?"

LaLBSRDMS (AOL): Today I am trying to do my job. It is supposed to be business as usual, but I am numb. How do you continue on? ... This tragedy is so raw, so deep and so painful.

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."

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. "The Internet is one way people have found to cope. People want to vent, be heard."

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