Communities can withstand traumatic events like the double stabbing that took the life of 13-year-old Letisha Reimer and sent her friend to the hospital, according to a local expert.
“Communities are built with a natural healing capacity,” said Leah Douglas, an associate professor at the University of the Fraser Valley specializing in trauma recovery.
While professional counselling is key for many people as they work through the psychological effects of trauma, the most important thing is support in their everyday life, according to Douglas.
Teachers, students and others affected should turn to their friends, family, faith communities, coaches and others in their lives for support, she said.
As the community heals in the coming weeks, it’s important to reflect on “the light in the darkness,” she said.
By acknowledging the “heroes” who have stepped up to provide support and security, a community, she said, can reinforce the fact that it is largely a safe place full of good people.
Douglas said most people recover from trauma very well, with fewer than 10 per cent developing long-term mental health problems.
But Douglas said parents should keep an eye on their kids for signs of acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
If they are exhibiting heightened levels of fear and anxiety – which could mean they are acting shaky or simply saying they don’t want to go to school – it’s a good idea to talk to them about their feelings, Douglas said.
The best strategy for healing is open communication.
A common reaction to heightened levels of anxiety is for people to attempt to numb the feelings, often with drugs, alcohol and overeating, Douglas said.
If kids don’t want to talk to their parents about their feelings, they should be encouraged to turn to others in the community, including school counsellors.
“It’s going to take some time. Grieving is not a single event; it’s a process that’s going to unfold over time,” said Douglas.
Abbotsford Senior Secondary will have more counsellors than usual on hand to help kids cope in the coming days and weeks.
Students, teachers and staff are easing back into their schedules this week, with a half day of classes without formal instruction on Monday followed by regularly schedule days the rest of the week.
The timing of when classes will get back to normal, with regular instruction, will be left up to the discretion of teachers, said the district’s superintendent Kevin Godden.
“We’ve given the teachers the flexibility to push on if they feel like the class is ready but to stop if they feel like they’re not and to talk their way through it,” he said. “And it’s OK to talk: it’s cathartic, it’s therapeutic and some classes and kids will need that more than others.”
He said some kids will want to jump right back into their school work and may have feelings of grief and trauma hit them later, while others will react in the opposite manner.
“We have to be OK with that,” he said.