Trauma, PTSD and General Anxiety after the Astroworld Festival Tragedy

On Nov. 5, 2021, during the first evening of what was supposed to be a multi-day music festival at NRG Park in Houston, a deadly stampede unfolded, ultimately killing ten concertgoers—most of them in their teens and early twenties. According to estimates by the Houston Police Department, nearly 55,000 people were in attendance during the chaotic and traumatizing event. Even more, countless members of the Greater Houston community have experienced shock and devastation from the news.

“When tragedies such as this occur, many people tend to experience lasting mental health effects, even if they were not at the actual event,” said Mariam Wahby, PhD, LMFT-S, an Education Specialist with Behavioral Health Services at Memorial Hermann Health System. “And, in a world where social media footage is easily accessible and often uncensored, viewing these upsetting moments after the fact can lead to secondary trauma, which can have a real and negative impact on a person’s mental health.”

Wahby added that it is completely normal for individuals who were in attendance, as well as others deeply affected by the tragedy, to experience feelings of anxiety, trauma-related mental health issues, symptoms of depression, and in some cases, even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) both now and in the coming weeks.

“I think a lot of people, especially teens and young adults, are really struggling right now,” Wahby said. “This age group was especially hard-hit with mental health struggles related to the pandemic, and I think for many, this festival represented ‘normal’ life again. For it to end so tragically may compound issues that were already under the surface.”

Wahby added that often, people with overwhelming feelings of worry or anxiety related to a trauma such as this will start to withdraw and avoid social situations. She said that it is important to attempt to resist isolation and instead surround yourself with people you trust.

“Whether you are just talking or hanging out, we really encourage people to maintain a sense of normalcy and not focus only on dark thoughts associated with the event,” Wahby said. “You should still talk about your feelings as much as you can with people you trust, be it a parent or grandparent, counselors or even friends. Talking about it and working through it is so critical, while being alone with your thoughts can be a very scary place and ultimately, not healthy.”

Wahby added that many people may find their sleep disrupted after a tragedy such as this, and she encouraged healthy sleep habits, which support overall health and especially mental health.

“Turn screens off at a certain time and try to keep a healthy sleep routine by going to bed at the same time each night,” Wahby said. “I would also encourage you to get some sun each day, which helps with mood, especially now that it gets darker earlier, which can cause people to experience feeling down or withdrawn. Seasonal effective disorder is something that should not be ignored, and pairing that with a trauma can be very difficult for some.” 

Wahby reiterated the importance of continuing to live one’s life to the best of their ability in the aftermath of a traumatic event while also working to take care of your mental health and work through the trauma.

“It’s so important for people to go out and do the things that make you happy so you are not solely focused on what happened,” Wahby said. “I also strongly encourage anyone who is struggling to seek out professional help. Being out in the sun and doing the things you love can only go so far. If you cannot focus on school or work or you can’t go to sleep or think about anything but this tragic event, please make an appointment with a counselor or psychologist who can guide you through recovery every step of the way.”

To access mental health services during non-traditional hours or for those in need of a same-day appointment, Memorial Hermann’s Mental Health Crisis Clinics can provide immediate, on-site intervention and counseling.

“Getting help when needed, talking about what you’re feeling and going through, and doing the things you love will help you cope, but it may not be easy or quick,” Wahby said. “The most important thing is to acknowledge that this is traumatizing and to understand that it is 100 percent OK to ask for help.”  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Ali Vise