Psychiatric expert: Violent happenings feed stress and fear

Dr. Steven Pliszka ‘Panic always makes things worse'

SAN ANTONIO – With each violent event happening from the streets of Paris to a neighborhood in San Bernardino, California, many following the news may wonder what’s happening in our society?

“One is the terrible, political international situation,” said Dr. Steven Pliszka M.D., chair of the department of psychiatry at the UT Health Science Center – San Antonio.

The other, Pliszka said, dates back 50 years when many mental health institutions were closed. The goal was that community supported programs would help many patients in need of treatment.

“The vast majority of the mentally ill do not commit acts of violence at rates higher than the general population,” Pliszka said, “But there is a small subset are capable of harming or killing others.”

He said there is also the fear factor involved in terrorism.

“Unpredictability is one of the worst stressors there are,” Pliszka said. “Panic always makes things worse. It never makes things better.”

Yet with the 24-hour news cycles, the Internet and social network sites often increase anxiety levels.

Pliszka said he recommends people set aside time to inform themselves.

“But if you’re checking the internet every 10 minutes, constantly looking for updates, you already feel anxious, so it’s probably going to make things worse,” Pliszka said. “Avoid the sort of paralyzing thinking of everything is terrible.”

Pliszka said his advice to people, “Do something that gets their mind off of it.”

Some of those suggestions he mentioned include spending time with family, doing volunteer work or other uplifting activities can serve as a positive outlet for feelings of uncertainty.

He cautions that children must be dealt with carefully.

“Less is better,” Pliszka said when it comes to those under age of five, “Watching the news with your 4-year-old is not a good idea.

He said school age children who are more aware need “concrete and specific explanations.”

Children should also be reassured their parents, their teachers and others are watching out for them. He believes young children would find it upsetting to hear, 'What is the world coming to?' or 'The world is coming to an end.' Pliszka said it’s important they know the world is a predictable place.

Pliszka said parents should try to engage their teenagers at a higher adult level, such as, “What are the political issues behind this?”