HIGH PROFILE TRAUMA
On April 6th, 2018 at least 15 lives were lost and many others were injured in a tragic collision involving the well-beloved Humboldt Broncos. All were part of the Humboldt family and the local response to the tragedy is unfathomable at this time. Several players on the team are from outside Saskatchewan including Alberta and Manitoba making this a Western Canadian traumatic event. However, with hockey being so dear to the hearts of Canadians and other tragedies with similarities from the past, we are already seeing a “rekindling” of trauma symptoms from across the country.
LISTEN, LEARN, SUPPORT
As a standard, we say that “high profile trauma intensifies already existing symptoms in individuals struggling with their own trauma histories but we have also seen how it can rekindle historical trauma in entire human systems like families, schools, communities and even Nations. A related dynamic is that the more individuals caught within the impact zone that can relate to the details reported by Mainstream Media, the more it will intensify trauma symptoms as well. Additionally, Social Media is a double-edged sword, as some posts can lower anxiety and be helpful, while the next post may elevate anxiety and fuel hurt and anger. Professionals, parents (caregivers) and adult mentors (coaches etc.) must be mindful of what our children and youth are posting. We consistently find that in the age 30 and under category our youth will verbally say to adults “I’m fine” and then post their true fears, anger, pain, and confusion online.
Become familiar with your young people’s use of Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram as these are the most common areas where the more private side of a youth’s life is manifested and publicized to their peers. The rest of communication will likely occur through private messages and group chats.
Ask your children and youth:
1. “Did (so and so) Tweet about the ...?”
2. “What are people saying on Twitter?”
3. “What are people posting on Snapchat?”
4. “What are people posting on their Snapchat Story?”
5. “Is anyone posting on Instagram?”
6. “What are you seeing on Instagram?”
7. “How are you feeling about what is being posted?
8. “Have you posted anything, or responded to any postings?
Facebook is not completely irrelevant to young people but their use of it tends to be more for the sense of self they want to portray to parents and caregivers: it is, in essence, a “Family App”.
For those throughout the Country feeling the weight of this tragedy, we encourage you to reach out to trusted family members, friends, spiritual leaders, and professionals.
EVERYONE MATTERS! If personal supports are unavailable and you are experiencing an acute emotional response please contact your local:
“Suicide Prevention Hotline” or
It is not essential that everyone talks right now! But it is essential that everyone feels supported and in proximity to those they feel safe with. Due to the national impact of this tragedy Provincial Health Regions, School Districts and other helping agencies should be publicly reminding community members of local resources for individuals in distress including 24-hour hotlines.
Crises/Trauma Response – The Traumatic Event Systems (TES) Model
1. The first principle of Crisis/Trauma Response is “model calmness.”
2. A standard of Psychological First Aid is that traumatized individuals will often seek us out if we present ourselves as safe to approach and available.
3. Communication regarding where and when counseling and support services will be offered is essential and having the right “types” of helpers there is paramount. This can be a well-organized combination of skilled therapists/ counselors and naturally skilled helpers under the direction of a clearly identified team leader.
4. Some individuals may not seek out services and yet, are in need of intervention and may need professionals to “over function” on their behalf by identifying them and making the first contact.
5. School staff, district leaders, helping professionals from the community and others should formally meet as often as necessary to identify and then triage those we believe may currently be at the highest level of risk. The following are key criteria:
POTENTIAL HIGH-RISK STUDENTS:
Note: This criteria may be applied to assess the potential risk of staff and parents as well.
- anyone whose senses were activated by traumatic stimuli (i.e. students and staff who witness a traumatic incident)
- immediate family members
- close friends
- students, staff, parents with active mental health concerns (i.e., suicidal ideation, severe depression, anxiety disorder...)
- students, staff, parents who abuse drugs and alcohol
- students, staff, parents with a significant emotional tie with the deceased, positive or negative. (This includes any individual who was involved in an adversarial relationship with a victim.)
- students, staff, and parents that have experienced a historical or recent loss such as the death of a parent, sibling, friend, spouse, etc.
- students, staff, parents with unresolved abuse/trauma
- leaders or over-responsible students, staff, and parents who may blame themselves for “not seeing the signs” or not “knowing what to do”
- any that you intuitively suspect may be at risk
6. In the aftermath of a high-profile traumatic event, there is a belief that those in the community most impacted only want help from people they know. However, our experience is that “some” people only want help from people they know while “some” people will only want help from people they do not know. Therefore a combination of local and outside supports is the best intervention.
7. Trauma Response Continuum – ensure that everyone understands that the response to trauma is on a continuum from some individuals who may not be impacted at all, to those with profound symptoms and every possible response in between. As well, some may have acute symptoms, only while others may have chronic symptoms.
8. It is very common to have either delayed or denied responses to trauma. A delayed response comes from individuals who are either required by their profession, or by nature in their families or friendship groups, to be a formal or natural leader. If traumatized, many of these individuals do not exhibit symptoms until weeks, months or a year later (after the first anniversary has gone by) and when those they were helping are now okay.
9. Everyone has a “right” to be as impacted as they need to be. Sadly, after many high profile tragedies many people will ridicule another saying they don’t have a right to be traumatized because “they hardly even knew the deceased/victim(s)”. Especially during a high profile trauma, people’s personal histories of grief, loss, and trauma from the past have a way of converging as the current loss feels like the reliving of the past. BE COMPASSIONATE.
10. All systems go! In the Traumatic Event Systems (TES) Model, we focus on ensuring that services are delivered to those most immediately impacted first. Then, in general, students (children and youth) are the next priority, followed by school staff, and parents/caregivers. In many cases where crisis/trauma response efforts either had no real effect or made matters worse, was because professionals focused on the students only and failed to support staff and parents. All systems go means we take care of:
- Students (children and youth)
- Staff (teachers, support staff and administration)
- Parents/Caregivers (including other adult community members who are connected to or impacted by the aftermath of a tragedy)
11. Communication. Staff needs to be communicated with openly so they understand all of the key circumstances that may affect them and their students, as well as know how they can help and be helped. Parent/Caregiver meetings also need to occur to educate parents how to determine if their children are doing okay and if not, what to do and where to go. Professionals need to assist some parents with how to talk to their children by modeling through how we talk to parents. Parents/Caregivers also need our support, as during Traumatic Events we consistently see dramatic symptom development in parents, especially if they feel they do NOT have a right to be traumatized and yet are bearing the weight of the symptoms. BE COMPASSIONATE.
12. School district leadership, police, city/town councils, cultural leaders, mental health, social services, health regions and others need to be publicly seen together from time to time for press conference updates and privately seen together for parent/community meetings, staff meetings etc. One of the most powerful ways to “model calmness” for the entire community is for these agencies to truly collaborate together. We can “feel” if we are in good hands. BE COMPASSIONATE.
J. Kevin Cameron, M.Sc., R.S.W., B.C.E.T.S., B.C.S.C.R.
Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress
Diplomate, American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress
Executive Director, Canadian Centre for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response
Theresa Campbell, M.A.
President, Safer Schools Together Ltd.