After mass shooting, let victims’ friends and...
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Jan 24, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

After mass shooting, let victims’ friends and neighbours lead on healing, says expert

Well-intentioned outsiders unlikely to help as much as friends and neighbours, says Dr. Reid Meloy


Dr. Reid Meloy is a forensic psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the University of California. He also consults with the Behavioural Analysis Units of the FBI and has authored several books on public violence and threat assessment. He talked to The Star about the impact a mass shooting can have on a small community like La Loche.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Is there something unique about shootings that happen in small communities?

The emotional ripple effect is going to be enormous. It’s likely that many people in the community knew a student who was killed or the family members or close neighbours of people who were killed. They’re going to feel this likely in a deep and emotional way.

This can have a generational impact. This can be felt for several generations to come. In some of the other cases, like the case in Dunblane, Scotland, where elementary students were murdered, has had a decades-long impact on the community. We’re also likely to see that in Newtown, Connecticut.

Are there any ways to mitigate that generational impact?

I think one thing that can be done is the media can be careful to not intrude upon both the traumatic impact of the event, and the grieving that will go on in the community.

Often times the community has to marshal itself against the intrusion of the media that’s looking for the kind of sensational coverage that’s going to boost their readership. It’s, for me, very distressing when I see microphones shoved in people’s faces and they’re asked how they feel, to get the emotional image to put on a loop and broadcast repeatedly.

The best approach is where the community, within itself, marshals the resources to take care of each other, whether it’s neighbour to neighbour, or whether they invite professionals into the community.

Is that a benefit of being a small community, having that support system?

I think so. In a sense there’s a double edge to that. One, the depth of emotional grief is intensified because of the size of the community. Secondly, the emotional resources that can be marshalled to help each other tend to be more efficient and more effective because people do know each other and can help each other.

The primary impact needs to be on the impact on the students, because they’re going to have lost friends, and they need to understand this at the level that they can, and it needs to be put in perspective, that it’s a tragedy but it’s also an extraordinarily rare tragedy that’s unlikely to affect them again in their lifetime.

What can we expect from the grieving process?

I think the mistake people make is that they assume that grief can somehow be, there can be a time-stamp put on it. It’s important for the people in the community to recognize that everybody is going to grieve in their own way, and everybody is going to have their own timetable, and they need to respect each other’s timetable.

Sometimes grief can become complicated and require psychiatric or psychological care, for example when grief becomes linked to clinical depression in the individual. People need to be, in a way, accepting of the grieving, but also on the lookout in their children and in their friends and neighbours, for signs of what we call complicated bereavement, for instance someone becoming depressed, and perhaps voicing suicidal thoughts in addition to their grieving over what has happened.

Toronto Star

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