By Crystal Mullen-Johnson
The traumatic death of Kobe Bryant was shocking to everyone who has watched him manifest his legacy for the last 20 years. When I saw the news about his helicopter crash, and subsequent headlines that followed about his 13-year old daughter — Gigi— and the others who perished, I thought the story was a hoax. This traumatic event abruptly changed my Sunday, and it made me re-evaluate my perspective about life.
I am not a NBA fan, but I am connected to the reality of experiencing a traumatic loss. Hearing and seeing visuals of the traumatic event triggered shock, sadness, and fear that reminded me of the feelings I experienced when I unexpectedly lost my own parents as a teenager and a young adult.
After being inundated about the news, I realized that constantly seeing images of the accident, reading and hearing tributes was unhealthy for me— it triggered grief. I decided to protect my emotional and mental well-being by reducing my time on social media and watching the news.
I later learned that my reaction to Kobe’s death was common. I had many friends and family members, who expressed the same sense of shock and grief; and people across the world have been connected by mourning the loss of a prominent national figure— whom we have watched grow into his greatness as an athlete, mentor, husband, and father.
This reaction is clinically known as secondary traumatic stress (STS), which is the emotional distress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand traumatic experiences of another person. STS symptoms can be similar to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Accordingly, individuals affected by secondary stress may find themselves re-experiencing personal trauma or notice an increase in symptoms related to the exposure of indirect trauma.
The symptoms can be more acute among people who have not resolved or adequately coped with negative emotions from a past traumatic event. The symptoms of STS can be properly managed with a few simple practices such as journaling, exercise, or sharing your favorite memories about the person with someone who will acknowledge and honor your grief.
For most, these of coping strategies will be adequate. However, if symptoms continue to disrupt your ability to navigate your daily routine, please contact a mental health professional who can help you to identify the root of what is triggering your response to grief. If you do not currently have a dedicated mental health professional, you are welcome to contact me at Strive Counseling Services, (205-721-9893), and I can work with you to co-develop a more sustainable strategy for coping with the unresolved emotions that accompany trauma— whether it was trauma that you have experienced recently or in the distant past. #letsSTRIVEtogether
Crystal Mullen-Johnson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW), Registered Play Therapist (RPT) and the CEO/Founder of Strive Counseling Services. Strive offers therapeutic counseling services to adults, children and couples in Birmingham, AL and surrounding areas. www.strivebhm.com.