Iran plane crash leaves Canadians anxious and devastated. Here’s how to cope

What role will Canada play in investigation into Iran plane crash?
WATCH: With intelligence showing that the Ukrainian plane, which crashed near Tehran, was likely shot down by an Iranian missile, Global News Chief Political Correspondent David Akin looks at what role Canada will play in the investigation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Jan. 10, the Canadian government updated the number of Canadians killed in the Jan. 8 Ukraine International Airlines crash in Iran from 63 to 57.

A country mourns as news of a plane crash that claimed the lives of 63 Canadians filled social media feeds over the last two days.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the crash was believed to have been caused by an Iranian missile.

“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence, that indicates the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said.

“This may well have been unintentional.”

Justin Trudeau says intel shows Ukrainian plane was “shot down” by Iranian missile
Justin Trudeau says intel shows Ukrainian plane was “shot down” by Iranian missile

Trudeau added this development could undoubtedly come as a further shock to grieving family and friends, but experts say many Canadians are upset, regardless if they knew the victims or not.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Iran plane crash: Why so many Canada-bound passengers were on the flight

Dr. Maneet Bhatia, a Toronto-based clinical psychologist, previously told Global News these feelings are completely normal.

“They shock us, taking us out of our comfort zone,” he said. “These events do not follow our script of how life should be.

“It’s important to recognize and address our feelings around a news event, even if we didn’t know someone directly connected to it.”

Tweet This

“If you feel overwhelmed to the point where your anxiety and distress is something you cannot cope with on your own… have compassion for yourself, and reach out to a mental health professional,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Boeing 737-800 was six minutes into its trip from Tehran to Kyiv, when it caught fire and crashed. All 176 passengers and crew on board were killed.

According to the prime minister, a total of 138 passengers were supposed to catch connecting flights to Canada.

Check in with how you’re feeling

Often with horrific news events like this one, these topics become a family discussion. Parenting expert Ann Douglas recently told Global News that parents in particular should be mindful of their own mental health during a crisis. 

Story continues below advertisement

“Don’t be afraid to hit the pause button on your news feed … if you find yourself feeling really anxious and perhaps a little hopeless or cynical, too,” she said

It’s one thing to be informed by the news — especially in this case when there are major developments — but it is also very easy to get overly consumed by it.

Douglas also recommends seeking a “balanced media diet” — reading both upsetting details and uplifting ones.
Timeline: What led to a major rise in tensions between the U.S. and Iran in 2020
Timeline: What led to a major rise in tensions between the U.S. and Iran in 2020

READ MORE: Trudeau says Iranian missile likely brought down plane, killing dozens of Canadians

Shiva Safari, a registered psychotherapist based in Toronto, agrees, telling Global News that if you have young children, you should avoid having detailed conversations out loud.

“Children can hear parents … I have a child myself and he was interested [in the news],” she said.

Safari agrees and says taking a break from the news or watching the latest developments is OK if the news gives you heightened anxiety.

“You have to monitor yourself.”

Psychologist Steven Stosny wrote about “headline stress disorder” in Psychology Today, a condition in which an onslaught of upsetting and traumatic news events can cause people to feel “personally devalued” and “unsafe.”

READ MORE: Alberta newlyweds married for just a week died in Iran plane crash

“They fear losing control of what happens to their own bodies,” he wrote.

He advises those feeling this way to reach out to their social networks face-to-face and show compassion for those impacted by a news event.

Story continues below advertisement

As many people feel powerless after a disaster, Stosny recommends connecting with who you are on a deeper level and standing up for your values as a way to take back control.

Avoid ongoing banter

Conversations around the plane crash and what caused it, how it happened and who to blame will all be heavily discussed in spaces like offices, family gatherings or friend outings in the next few weeks, Safari said.

For some, there can be pressure to be part of these conversations and even contribute. If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, though, avoid these types of exchanges.

What role will Canada play in investigation into Iran plane crash?
What role will Canada play in investigation into Iran plane crash?

“People have a lot of assumptions and theories and this can create tension and negativity,” Safari said.

If you have someone in your life who enjoys having these types of discussions, feel free to opt out.

If you know someone in the Iranian community

A majority of the victims of this horrific crash were part of Canada’s vibrant Iranian community.

Safari says if you know someone who is directly impacted by this event or someone from the Iranian community, you should be extra sensitive.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Many victims of Tehran plane crash part of growing Iranian diaspora in Canada

“Do not add any extra opinions or give political [takes]… people are very sensitive and grieving,” she said.

She added the best thing to do is to reach out, offer condolences and ask how you can help.

“I would respect their space and offer help.”

Find time to destress

In times like these, it’s important to make time for yourself and your mental health.

Whether this means meditation, speaking with a therapist or taking a digital detox, Safari says use this time for yourself.

READ MORE: Iran plane crash: Here’s what we know about the victims who lived in Canada

She recommends readings and having open discussions of how you feel, being mindful how others in the room react.

Where to find help

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.
Story continues below advertisement

— with files from Rachel D’amore, Kerri Breen, Meghan Collie