By Peter Kinderman, University of Liverpool and Yijun Yu, The Open University
Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak has confirmed that Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, with no survivors.
In a press conference, Rezak said new information proved “beyond reasonable doubt” that the plane was lost.
The new data came from the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch and private copmany Inmarsat. The plane disappeared on 8 March en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Relatives of the passengers were notified of the news by text message.
The Conversation is seeking response from academic experts in various fields to make sense of the conclusion to this tragedy.
Families dealing with grief
Peter Kinderman, Head of the Institute of Psychology, University of Liverpool
The argument for sending everyone a text message is that you don’t want the news to drip out in an uncoordinated way so you can see why they’d say, “Let’s have a single message.”
It sounds brutal, it sounds like a bad way to do things and it could seem ill-advised, but one of the things that is really bad for people is to have uncontrolled rumours. So I can see why you’d want to give this message very clearly and in a way you can literally take away. But it’s important that the families are taken aside, told what they need to know and have it followed up with written information.
But there are other limitations, apart from the image that this conveys. Anyone who receives that text message would immediately have their questions. If you’re sending someone a text message, every single person will have a different question: When did you decide? Have you seen bodies? Is this based on statistical probability? Do you know why? All of the questions will come out and those are not easy to respond to via text message.
The first things the families need now is information – they need information more than anything else. Authorities need to tell them as much as they know, as clearly as they can.
The second thing they need is to have a sense of community and shared support for each other. When people go through shared tragedies, those tragedies are somewhat easier to bear if you’re part of a community. At this stage, I wouldn’t necessarily try to offer them therapy or counselling, I’d try to offer them facts and try to build a sense of community.
We mustn’t second guess people’s psychological reactions. As a psychologist I wouldn’t try to interpret those reactions. Whatever is happening should be considered normal.
What can the media do? They shouldn’t use grief as spectator sport. I know it’s very attractive, but you should leave them alone. Please don’t think the media can do something helpful for these people. Don’t take photos when somebody is doing something slightly unusual like rocking or praying or getting angry; that’s what people do. They’re not odd, they’re not strange and they’re not particularly interesting. Don’t judge them, and leave them alone. All shades of human emotional response are normal and natural.
More to come.
Do you have more questions about MH370? Leave them in the comments below and we’ll try to find experts to answer them.
The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.