The loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared more than a month ago while carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, has garnered a great deal of media coverage and discussion. Any potential tragedy understandably fosters many emotions, but certain characteristics of this event may have made it considerably more compelling.
The lack of specific knowledge about what occurred tends to spark curiosity in the same way that any mystery does. As humans, we have an innate capacity for curiosity and a wish to understand the world and our place in it. Perhaps more importantly, when we are exposed to a traumatic event that we have difficulty understanding, we often feel strongly compelled to look for answers. We attempt to create a logical sequence of events, and in this way offer ourselves a sense of control and hopefully some relief.
Left Behind by Flight 370
At this point in the Flight 370 investigation, it can be assumed that the passengers’ family members are experiencing some form of ambiguous loss, a term that is becoming more commonly used in behavioral health trauma treatment. Examples would be kidnappings and missing person cases where family members are left wondering what happened and even if their loved ones are still alive. One challenge of this type of loss is getting to a feeling of closure.
In the Rosen Center‘s work with traumatized military and law enforcement members, as well 9/11 first responders, we frequently see individuals coming in for behavioral health treatment, where their initial focus is a deep need to understand what happened. In many cases, they often say that if they understood the cause, their pain would be relieved. In some cases this is true. In others, accepting the unanswered questions can be difficult.
In many ways, the public can respond to tragedies such as the disappearance of Flight 370 in a similar way. We empathize with the victims and may find it very troubling as we imagine this could possibly happen to us or our loved ones. The ambiguous nature of the event can create a sense of helplessness for some who don’t feel knowledgeable enough to avoid a similar incident. Therefore, we can crave the most recent information in order to fight that feeling. The most recent information about Flight 370 is that search teams had reacquired locator beacons, likely from the downed aircraft. Let’s hope that a more complete picture of what happened emerges soon.