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Psychological Reactions to Osama bin Laden's Killing

By HERWriter
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Mental Health related image Photo: Getty Images

Americans listening to news reports and President Barack Obama’s speech last Sunday night, May 1, felt all sorts of feelings: shock, disbelief, happiness, security and even fear and disgust. Although media focused at first on crowds of Americans celebrating Osama bin Laden’s death, the psychological reactions are complex and involve more than feelings of joy.

<< A whole spectrum of reactions >>

“I think that there are a variety of potential reactions,” said Dr. Philip Muskin, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. “I think on one side is perhaps a sense of relief … even happiness that somebody who’s caused such terrible misery to many people … has been killed.”

Gerard Jacobs, a professor and director of the Disaster Mental Health Institute, said in an email that there are not many common reactions.

“Individuals tend to vary dramatically in their reactions to events,” Jacobs said. “I think that there is likely to be widespread relief that this particular chapter of the war on terror has ended, together with relief that all of the Navy SEALs involved are safe. But I suspect that the death of bin Laden has also awakened many memories of the attacks of Sept. 11, for those directly involved, their families, those who served as responders to that event, and for Americans in general.”

Hearing the news caused a sudden emotional and psychological reaction for many Americans, despite the variety in feelings.

“I think the news matters and has an immediate psychological impact,” said Susan Lipkins, a psychologist in New York, in an email. “It is a moment in history that is very significant.”

<< Rejoicing over bin Laden’s death >>

That fact that 9/11 was planned and not accidental makes these emotions more intense. For example, Americans might feel a sense of revenge.

“He masterminded this, he did this terrible thing to us and we’ve killed him, we’ve exacted revenge,” Muskin said, referring to how people might view the killing.

Some thought this day would never come.

“I think the initial reaction for many was joy, since Osama had vowed that we would never catch him,” said Sheila Erlich, a psychologist in New York.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.