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Category Archives: crisis

Terror Levels and Anxiety in Children

London Bridge memorial messages and Union Jack flag posted after terror attack - credit ChiralJon on Flickr,

Tributes at London Bridge after the 2017 terror attack. Credit: ChiralJon, via Flickr (

The results of a recent YouGov survey have revealed that a third of children in the South East aged 5 to 18 worry about a possible terror attack. 35% of parents interviewed have said this fear is causing anxiety in their children. The YouGov survey, which saw more than 1800 parents included nationally, was commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation to uncover the impact that world events were having on children.

Worrying about unpredictable events is very understandable. Reassuringly, it is easy for parents to reduce this fear to manageable levels. Children fear the things that they can’t fully understand; that said, they are also resilient.

It is really important to be able to reduce a child’s fear before it interferes with their mood. Anxiety left unchecked tends to get worse, rather than the old and false belief of ‘ignore it and it will go away’.

MCR heart with bees symbol of Manchester painted as mural on wall after Manchester terror attacks

David Dixon’s photo of the Manchester bee symbol, used heavily in the wake of the Manchester attack, shows the community coming together. Credit: David Dixon (

Helpful Tips to Reduce Anxiety about Terror Levels

1. Talk in an age-appropriate way to your children about the unlikely probability of a terror attack in their immediate world.

This will quickly reduce their distress. Simple maths and probability with older children works well, demonstrating that the likelihood of a terror attack happening to them is very small. Last year, a Maryland University study found that, across Europe, you were more likely to be a victim of terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s than you are now. Remind your child that you lived through these times.

Fables, myths and made up stories work with younger children. For instance, a young child quickly grasps that Father Christmas only visits in certain circumstances and at certain times: if they are good, and only at Christmas. Young children don’t need to understand time and frequency to hold this in mind, as they know Father Christmas doesn’t visit every day.   

2. Teach your teenager about some sensible precautions they can take to remain vigilant about their surroundings.

Be careful not to swamp them with too much information, and stick to practical things they can do that make sense in everyday life. For instance, to always have their mobile charged when going out (perhaps carrying a charging cable or lightweight emergency power pack) and being very aware of emergency exits.

In contrast, a younger child is greatly reassured by being told that parents and teachers are there to look after them. This frees them from the burden of worry. Older children feel safer when they feel involved and in control, but younger children need to know that parents and carers are in control.

3. Reassure them that it’s okay to speak to an adult or teacher at any time that they feel a genuine fear.

Do not make fun of them when they do confide in you. If they can’t tell you for fear of ridicule, the anxiety simply stays inside and grows. Should your child be bottling things up unnecessarily, and you’re struggling to get them talking, they might wish to express themselves through drawing, writing or similar activities.

Their school may also be able to encourage them to open up, either as part of PSHE lessons or in school assemblies, perhaps using the Red Cross’ resources for teachers on how to discuss disasters and emergencies. Schools will be aware of the need to teach pupils not to judge other children because of their race or religion, especially in the wake of terrorist incidents, when intolerant opinions can often be voiced louder than ever before.

4. Remind children that it is okay to trust their judgment – if a situation looks suspicious, it may be suspicious.

They need to get away from the situation, if it is safe to do so, and alert an adult who can take the necessary action. If these steps are taken, fear will reduce.

The ongoing public transport campaign, ‘See it. Say it. Sorted‘ (launched in 2016) can also be reassuring, as children will realise the British Transport Police takes reports of suspicious activity seriously and that you can simply send a text message to 61016 to report something suspicious.

5. Images of terror surround us, but it is important not to produce a false picture by blacking out all media representations.

Children will always find out about life events, either through friends, family members or at school, and we shouldn’t expect them to stay ignorant.

We cannot pretend terror attacks never happen, but we can reassure children of any age that they are still rare. What’s more, when they do happen, many people will be on hand to help and, just as the unfolding coverage can upset us, there will also be stories about acts of kindness and bravery from the public during and after an upsetting event.

Talking About Terror Threats if Your Child Has Autism

If your child has autism, there are a range of very specific tools that can be used to reduce their fear. At our psychology clinic, we often use Social Stories: a concept developed by teacher Carol Gray in 1990 to help her autistic pupils.

The use of Social Stories is a very specific way of teaching, via the use of stories with your child, which introduces the concept of anxiety about terrorism in a character or subject in a made-up story. Using this technique, the child is able to understand the concept through the eyes of the character. This is really important when a child is unable to make sense of simple explanation.

Written by a guest contributor for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (

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Why is Happiness Fleeting?

At the weekend, I was listening to James Rhodes’s brilliant new album, ‘Fire on all sides’ – what a masterpiece. To say he has talent is the understatement of the decade.  Almost at the same time, I saw his recent BBC Breakfast interview, which you can watch below, where he discusses happiness and what it means to pursue feeling happy.

Rhodes makes some interesting observations about the state of happiness, but this one statement in particular resonates:  ‘We are not meant to be happy all the time’.  Actually, his thoughts fit like a glove with major schools of spiritual wellbeing, ancient myths and archetypal psychology: Heraclitus to Graves, to Bly and Samuels, to name a few.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Rhodes says more on the pursuit of happiness; his view is that we are not meant to be happy all the time and that the pursuit of happiness at all costs is causing us pain. Wise words indeed.

Ancient wisdom tells us that ‘happiness is a fleeting state, not an arrival at a destination’. What, then, if we think about it in different terms ? How about ‘happiness comes and goes’, just like the tides?

At best, happiness is a fleeting emotion: a sensation to be enjoyed while it is here, however short the visit.  Sadness, happiness’ ugly twin, has the same fleeting visiting pattern. When sadness visits, we have to endure despite wanting rid of it. Jung aptly named sadness  ‘nigredo’, or dark night of the soul. Sadness is a fleeting emotion, too; just like other feelings, it will pass.

More often, sadness teaches – it enables us to grow spiritually and emotionally. How would we appreciate or even know happiness if sadness didn’t exist? If happiness were the permanent condition, or even much wrestled for a sense of balance, where would meaning be found? How would the green shoots of personal growth burst forth?

Carl Jung quote happiness and sadness balance

Jung famously wrote that ‘the word “happy” would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness’. What do you think?

Understanding Sadness in Relation to Happiness

A permanent state of bliss could be likened to the Sisyphus myth (where Sisyphus must roll a stone up a hill, only for it to roll back down again every time he succeeds). It would be meaningless and eventually boring. Could too much happiness be no more than an ecstatic death sentence? It takes a bit of thought to consider sadness from this standpoint.

Self-help books certainly do have their rightful place, but the pursuit of happiness per se is both illogical and a fallacy. Depression, too, at times is a necessary position, and it has a purpose. We can’t always be happy, just as we can’t be continually sad. James Rhodes is making a wise observation that happiness and sadness are part of a continuum. They can be normalized as part of the experience of living.

Severe or prolonged depression is a different matter. It is not normal sadness at all. These symptoms are not part of normal sadness:

  • To really want to kill yourself
  • To not have the energy to wash or wear clean clothes
  • To want to scratch, burn or harm yourself
  • To not be able to think clearly
  • To not be able to make simple decisions

These depression symptoms need expert psychological or psychiatric help. These symptoms are not a progression of normal sadness, but a sign that help is needed.

However, if your sad feelings are fleeting, and part of a normal life with its ups and downs, rather than clinical depression, it’s important to put them in perspective, and Rhodes’ words can help with that process.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (


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Practical Steps for Preventing Suicide in a Mental Health Crisis

Man alone and introspective in rural setting with sunset and sky

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 4,400 people in the United Kingdom end their life by suicide each year (at the time of writing, August 2014). Between 2003-2013, 18,220 people experiencing mental health issues in the UK took their own lives. Simply put, one person deliberately ends their life every two hours.  Alarmingly, at least ten times more people attempt suicide.

If you’re a family member caring for someone who feels suicidal, these statistics will feel particularly upsetting, but there are steps you can take to support a loved one experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Understanding Suicidal Thoughts

The reasons for suicide are many. The public’s perception of why people take their own life is largely incorrect, anecdotal and adds to a family’s reluctance to seek help during times of crisis.  People usually commit suicide because their emotional pain has become too severe for them to manage. They are unable to think of a positive solution to overcome their difficulties. Over time, despair escalates to the point that ‘not being here’ makes perfect sense to them.  The antecedents to this assumption may be depression, bereavement, battles with addiction and so forth.  Each person’s circumstances may vary, but all share the common view – but erroneous assumption – that life has become unmanageable and will not improve.

It’s easy for bystanders to recognise that the suicidal person’s perceptions are skewed, but to the desperate individual, their plan is often viewed as a personal victory.  They have found a way out.  When an individual’s thoughts or psychological schemas have developed in this way, urgent mental health assistance is required.

While it is always the decision of the individual whether or not to kill themselves, mental health services MUST respond to calls for assistance from vulnerable individuals who find themselves in crisis. Timely intervention often reverses suicidal ideation.

It is important that if you are living with a partner, child or family member who is descending into suicidal thoughts that you are able to obtain help and quickly.

Preventing Suicide in a Mental Health Crisis – Advice for Family and Friends

These four steps can be taken when you’re supporting a loved one in crisis:

  1. The first step is to visit your GP. Request an urgent appointment. Be assertive, be polite but be firm. Once with your doctor, it is important to request an urgent psychiatric referral. In reality an urgent referral is usually not a fast enough response for an imminently suicidal patient. Even where medication is prescribed, often symptoms get worse before they get better. Family members need to be vigilant and get additional help quickly if needed (see points 3 and 4).   An appointment for a STEPPS referral is never an appropriate stand-alone intervention for a client actively considering suicide.
  2. If a referral cannot be secured quickly, consider a private consultation with a consultant psychiatrist or chartered psychologist. There are a number of private hospitals and clinics that are able to offer appointments quickly. Do check the credentials of clinicians especially to ascertain they are registered with the appropriate regulating bodies.
  3. If symptoms worsen, go to your nearest A and E in the day or night. There will be an on-duty mental health crisis team.
  4. If you are concerned about threatening of violent behaviour to self or others, call the police. It may result in the individual being sectioned, but this will also result in fast treatment that may save a life.

It is important that the family of a suicidal patient recognise that their loved one is unlikely to have the capacity to advocate fully for themselves. In our experience, it is often a very difficult process to be fully heard by mental health services and often even more difficult to obtain treatment when in crisis.  Attention to these steps will improve the chance of recovery.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, BSc, MSc, PsychD, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPs.  Dr Tizzard works with adults, children and families and is an experienced expert witness in criminal and family law.



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