How to deal with the trauma of the Medibank cyber breach | Andrea Szasz

MMillions of Australians feel hurt in the wake of the Medibank cyber breach. Weaponizing private health information can be deeply traumatic — especially for those who have made sensitive health information public.

The promise of confidentiality and professional privacy helps us feel safe enough to seek psychiatric or other medical treatment. However, sharing private information publicly, such as details about mental health issues, addictions, sexually transmitted diseases, or past abortions, can be shameful and highly traumatic. It can feel like a real betrayal and breach of personal security.

Knowing that there is sensitive information circulating on the dark web that criminals can use against us can also make you feel pressured to share private and personal details and experiences with family, friends, and co-workers—before the criminals have them for us release.

Victims of this horrific invasion of privacy need to know they did nothing wrong. It is often difficult to get help and treatment when suffering from such an injury. However, it is a bold and brave act to seek support to deal with.

So what can you do when you are affected by this cyber attack and you are feeling overwhelmed, helpless, hurt and maybe ashamed?

Overcome shame with empathy

The first step is to acknowledge that you are not alone and that your feelings are valid. Millions of people deal with this injury. Find someone you can trust and talk about it. like dr Brené Brown says, “When you shame a petri dish, it takes three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you dump that same amount of shame in a petri dish and douse it with empathy, it cannot survive.”

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An empathic other can be a loving spouse, friend, mentor, or professional. Most workplaces offer Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services, and there are free mental health hotlines you can contact. It might feel like with the information already out there all hope is lost. Know that this is not the case and seek help if you feel this way.

How to answer questions

How do you deal with questions from family members and loved ones who may have found out something confronting or very personal about you through this heinous cyber attack? Remember that you have the right to privacy and you can share as much or as little as you like.

For example, if a family member found out that you were seeing a psychologist for depression and anxiety, they may be concerned and will speak to you about it. You have the right to say you are unwilling or unable to talk about it; but assure them you have support. Then when you’re ready, you may feel like you have more to share. You can also designate a friend or family member to answer questions for you until you feel ready. This person can act as your protection while you figure out how best to deal with the questions and the consequences.

Take back control

This data breach may have impacted your sense of security, but there are ways you can regain your sense of control. Aside from all the necessary practical measures you can take to protect your remaining privacy or personal information, there are some self-care techniques you can use:

  • Practicing simple but effective breathing techniques can reduce the effects of anxiety and restlessness. For example, breathing in through your nose for three seconds and breathing out through your mouth for five seconds will help activate the calming part of your nervous system.

  • Normalizing and acknowledging your thoughts and feelings can reduce their intensity. It is a perfectly acceptable reaction to feel fear, anger, indignation and even shame at this horrific event.

  • Catching yourself and talking your way out of catastrophic thoughts and beliefs will lessen the lasting effects. It’s a terrible thing that happened to you, but that doesn’t mean those terrible things will always happen to you.

In Australia support is available from Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 and MensLine on 1300 789 978. In the UK the charity Mind can be reached on 0300 123 3393 and Childline on 0800 1111. In the US, Mental Health America can be reached at 800-273-8255

Andrea Szasz is a Psychotherapist and Program Director at South Pacific Private, a mental health, trauma and addiction treatment center

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