The Role of Nursing in a Violent World

By Roberta Heale, Associate Editor EBN @robertaheale @EBNursingBMJ

Recent years have seen a growing number of violent attacks by extremists of all sorts, which target innocent bystanders and civilians. Although attacks have been noted across the globe, two recent include a concert in Manchester and in the streets of London.

Initial assistance is swift and comprehensive.  Civilians at the scene do what they can to help.  Rescue and health care workers flood in to tend to the injured.  Law enforcement officers secure the site and begin the process of evaluating the event. The rest of the world follows the incident and aftermath in horror, clinging to any information that will allay our concerns and lessen our anxiety.  But then, things die down and we are no longer riveted to our devices.  The area is cleaned up, funerals have been conducted for the victims, and we turn our attention away from those who will remain in hospital and rehabilitation for many months to come. This, however, is when the real work of healing should happen and where nursing can, and should, take the lead in providing care to individuals, families, and communities that have experienced trauma.

Research into the aftermath of violent attacks shows us that survivors of terrorism may suffer from ongoing mental health problems including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, for years after the incident. The mental health effects of violent attacks impact not only those at the scene but also their families and communities. Crisis intervention and long-term mental health counseling and services are beneficial.1

Nurses are front-line workers, most often in direct contact with people both in healthcare institutions and in the community.  We are uniquely positioned to assess the effects of a violent attack and to provide support to those who are suffering from the consequences.2  However, a proactive approach is required.  Nurses should be trained and given the appropriate resources to meet the needs of individuals, families, and communities that are suffering the effects of violent attacks.

It’s terrible to think that we live in a world where preparation for random violent attacks is necessary.  Yet, this preparation has the potential to facilitate healing among countless people.  Nursing has an important role to play and, as a profession, we should not shy away from this difficult work.



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