International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

President’s Message

Posted 2 January 2015 in StressPoints by Miranda Olff, PhD

At the moment I am writing this column, the world is watching trauma unfolding live. Paris, Europe, and the whole world is shocked by the brutal attacks on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and on a Jewish supermarket. Seventeen people were brutally killed and we are being repeatedly exposed to images of a police officer protecting the Charlie Hebdo office being murdered in cold blood.

These events have nothing to do with religion, yet seem to unite people of different religious backgrounds across the world. The massive response involving people of vastly different backgrounds, from Amsterdam to Sydney, reflects a global protest against basic human (and democratic) values being shattered.

In Holland, the Muslim mayor of Rotterdam (the Netherlands’ second city) spoke out condemning Islamist extremism in perfect French, “Je m’apelle Ahmed Aboutaleb, mais ce soir je suis Parisien et je suis Charlie.” Politicians and citizens of many countries expressed themselves similarly. It was beautiful to see how gatherings were held all over the world to jointly condemn terrorism.

How does terrorism affect the population and what is ISTSS’s role? Today’s events raise questions about what in the lives of the attackers happened that led them to perform these acts. Our field of traumatic stress studies certainly has the task of helping to prevent trauma and its consequences, for instance by advising governments on how to deal with radicalism and its effects on public health.

Terrorism is meant to create anxiety and unfortunately is, to a certain extent, successful. As trauma specialists we know that, typically, domestic violence is far more prevalent than terrorism and that the chance of being in a traffic accident largely outweighs that of being the victim of a terrorist attack. Sadly, however, even today there are places in the world where terrorism and trauma are everyday occurrences; we just have to think of the Middle East or of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Today’s events clearly show how trauma is a global issue that affects public health. And why both are strategic priorities for ISTSS in the coming year.