Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Idit Albert explains how the NHS is working to help anyone who is struggling following the attacks last year to get the help they need.
Terrorist incidents can have a lasting impact on people. People who lost loved ones, those who were injured, people who were at the incident as well as their close family including children, can find that they are struggling months or even years after the event. Members of the emergency services and those who provided initial care after the attacks can also struggle with the impact of these events.
We have a team of psychologists who run a free, confidential NHS mental health service to help people affected by the 2017 London terrorist attacks in Westminster, Finsbury Park, London Bridge and Parsons Green.
The service is focused on helping people directly affected by the four incidents such as survivors, witnesses, the bereaved, immediate family members and emergency responders.
Our team of specialist psychologists have experience of working with people who have been involved in traumatic events including terrorist attacks. We can assess whether people would benefit from more targeted psychological support and refer them to appropriate NHS services.
The service is designed to support adults as well as children and young people. It is based in London but we want to highlight that it is open to anyone across England who was caught up in the four attacks. We know that many people affected where from outside England.
We also know from previous terrorist attacks and major incidents that people often do not come forward for help or recognise their symptoms. This service aims to reach out to people who are still struggling to cope and who may benefit from some professional mental health support.
People respond to trauma in different ways but those who were affected may be experiencing distressing feelings of fear, anger, shame and guilt or have unwanted or distressing thoughts or memories of the incident. People may also have sleep difficulties and be less interested in pleasant activities or hobbies.
The anniversary of the attacks may also mean that people’s feelings intensify and they find it harder to cope.
Read the leaflet on how to cope with the anniversary of a traumatic event
This service was established in October last year and we’ve been working closely with the emergency services to make contact with people who were affected by the attacks and taking action depending on what they need. As you would expect, a lot of people are still experiencing high levels of distress so we are working very closely with them.
We’re now working to get the message out that this help is available and encourage people who have been affected to get in touch.
If you were affected by the attacks and are experiencing one or more of the following we would encourage you to contact the service:
- Having frequent distressing memories and dreams about the attack
- Feeling more upset and fearful
- Acting differently to before the trauma
- Struggling to work or look after the home and family
- Having more difficulties in your relationships
- Using drugs or drinking more alcohol
- Feeling very jumpy
- Not enjoying activities and experiences that you use to enjoy
People can call the service by phone or email. They will then be invited to complete an emotional wellbeing screening questionnaire either online, over the phone or by post. A face to face clinical assessment with a specialist clinical psychologist may also be arranged to talk to people further to assess what kind of support they need. This assessment can take place in offices in north or south London, over the phone or by Skype depending on what people prefer. Depending on the outcome of the assessment a psychologist will then refer people for appropriate treatment in local mental health services.
This could include NHS talking therapy services, child and adolescent mental health services, specialist services for post-traumatic services and secondary care.
If people don’t report difficulties during the screening the service will contact them again after three months and six months to offer them another screening to check again whether they need any extra support.
We don’t want people to suffer in silence and we’d urge anyone who is struggling to get in touch so we can help.
We’re also asking health and care professionals, including GPs and pharmacists, to let anyone they think may benefit from the service know about it.
There are NHS services available to help people who are struggling as a result of the London attacks.
Contact details for service:
Phone: 0800 090 23 71
Service information on South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust website
The service is being funded by NHS England and provided by South London and Maudsley NHS Trust in collaboration with Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust.
This service is not a new mental health service for everyone, it is specifically for people who have been directly affected by the attacks. As a first port of call, we are still encouraging people who are struggling with their mental health to see their GP, call NHS 111 or self-refer to their local psychological therapies service.
About the author
Dr Idit Albert is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Trauma Lead from the Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma (CADAT), a leading centre in the development and study of cognitive behaviour treatments for PTSD and anxiety disorders. She led an outreach and screen service for residents of England that were affected by the terrorist attacks that took place in Tunisia, Paris and Brussels. Dr Albert led a psychological support service for UK medics who volunteered in the Ebola treatment centres in Sierra Leone. She was a consultant on international projects for survivors of human trafficking and military veterans. Dr Albert has been involved for many years in training clinical psychologists.