Experts on How Concertgoers Can Process Astroworld Fest’s Tragic Events: ‘Keep Talking’

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Following a year almost entirely without live music, the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines throughout the course of 2021 has allowed for concertgoers to return to live shows and see their favorite artists on stage again. But, already accounting for the ongoing health risks of attending concerts with the rampant Delta variant of COVID-19 still a major factor, the tragic events of last weekend’s Astroworld Fest have sparked discourse rooted in concern for concertgoers who might have been mentally and emotionally effected by the loss of life that occurred in Houston.

As the live music community recovers and attempts to move forward from last Friday’s (Nov. 5) deadly event, Billboard spoke with therapists and professors with specialties in psychology on the cognitive and emotional aftermath of Astroworld Fest, and how concertgoers can work toward feeling safe and protected at shows again. Below, they offer their expertise in their own words, condensed and edited for clarity.

Claudia Glaser-Mussen, New York psychotherapist, performer in children’s band Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

Young people were saying, “We were screaming, we were trying to get help.” There was one woman that said, “I said to my boyfriend, let’s get the hell out of here.” And he said, “I cannot move.” So, the trauma of being in such a high pressure situation and not being able to escape is is an enormous part of this trauma as well. So everybody knew this. Something wasn’t right. This was getting way out of hand, way before.

Online support groups for people who were there I think could be really, really helpful. There’s a powerful healing in being able to speak about a shared experience, right. I also think some meditation and work around feeling safe again in one’s body is really, really important. Some somatic work, which means [with] a therapist who understands what the trauma lives in the body.

What really helps is finding people who support you, who can hear you, who aren’t afraid to talk about what happened. Being able to go to somebody and say, “I need to process what I saw.” And that that usually comes in with a therapist or with group therapy.

The psychological fallout is tremendous. I mean, not only for the families, it’s just so horrifying to even imagine. But [for] those around them and the thousands of people who were stuck and weren’t able to move, there’s going to be a lot of post-traumatic stress because of this.

That’s why I just want to say, therapy is a good thing. It’s a helpful thing. Keep talking. Fall into the arms of people who love you. And don’t be afraid to talk about this. When you need to, ask people for help. So that we can make sure that people who work in the industry need to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

George Loewenstein, economic and psychology professor, Carnegie Mellon University 

I think people are generally more afraid of things that are easy to imagine. Being trapped in a fire is easier to imagine than being trapped and trampled by people. It’s hard to imagine the kind of pressure that could come from people bearing down on you. It’s just hard for people to imagine getting crushed, but it isn’t very difficult to imagine getting burnt in a fire. So I think ease of imagination plays a pretty big role in what people are afraid of.

Most people will eventually go back to concerts after while. And it will feel different to them — a little more scary than it did before. But eventually, they will get over the fear. The only way that the events [of last weekend] will have any kind of positive consequences is if they lead to new types of regulations that are self-imposed by the industry to mitigate these types of risks, That could be the silver lining of the events.

I guess [concert organizers] just need to think more carefully and prospectively about things. They should go through a checklist of different possible risks, and both take measures to try to prevent those risks from unfolding, but also think about taking measures to deal with the risks if they occur, quickly and effectively.

Roxane Cohen Silver, distinguished professor of psychological science, University of California, Irvine

For any kind of music venue, fans both hope and expect that the venue is going to be safe. I don’t think that people enter a football game or a baseball game or music concert with the expectation that they’re going to be injured. Of course, there’s a small risk, but I believe that people are going to be entertained. They’re purchasing the tickets to be entertained.

For individuals there, the experience for those who were both directly exposed to the surge toward the stage or those individuals who witnessed people falling or trampling, that can be a very traumatic experience for many people. Having the opportunity to get professional assistance is an excellent idea for those who feel that they need it.

Even individuals who were not directly at the stage, but who heard about it, or maybe heard screaming — they may benefit from some intervention. Even individuals who had attempted to get closer to the stage but were unable to might still feel a sense of guilt — a concept that we know in psychology called “survivor guilt,” people who were spared from this tragedy as they were sitting further away. Some of those individuals may be very distressed and may benefit from therapy.

I would [also] encourage people who are very distressed to do what they can to minimize their exposure to this story — because our research suggests that continued repeated media attention [and] media exposure can only amplify the distress that people are feeling.

 
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