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Feelings of fear, anxiety and powerlessness normal in incidents like Toronto mass shooting: experts

Click to play video: 'Makeshift memorial grows near Danforth shooting scene' Makeshift memorial grows near Danforth shooting scene
People left candles, flowers and wrote messages to the victims of a mass shooting in Toronto's Greektown neighbourhood Monday after a makeshift memorial appeared at the site of the shooting – Jul 23, 2018

TORONTO – Deadly incidents such as April’s van attack and Sunday’s mass shooting in Greektown may have residents feeling as if Toronto the Good has become Murder City Canada, and has left some wondering whether the country’s largest city is a safe place to
live.

Feelings of fear, anxiety and powerlessness are a normal response to such violence, said Dr. Katy Kamkar, a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, whether a person directly witnessed an event or heard about it through the news or social media.

“We know this incident was very traumatic, very grave,” Kamkar said of Sunday night’s shooting, which injured 13 and left three people dead, including the gunman.

READ MORE: How the Danforth shooting played out in Toronto

The mass shooting occurred just three months after 26 pedestrians were mowed down by a van on Yonge Street in the city’s north end.
Alek Minassian, 25, was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder after the attack.

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In between, there have been numerous gun-related incidents, including one that took the lives of two Toronto rappers and another that sent two young schoolgirls to hospital with bullet wounds.

VIDEO: How the Danforth mass shooting unfolded

Click to play video: 'How the Danforth mass shooting unfolded' How the Danforth mass shooting unfolded
How the Danforth mass shooting unfolded – Jul 23, 2018

“Certainly when we put it in context, we can appreciate the accumulation of events, increased shooting that we hear about or the city being on high alert … that can lead to feeling more anxious and fearful,” Kamkar said.

Kiran Brar of Victim Services Toronto said the organization’s crisis hotline had received about 80 calls by midday Monday from people seeking counselling in the wake of the shooting in the city’s popular east-end area, a hub of restaurants, bars, businesses and homes, as well as site of the annual Taste of the Danforth, which celebrates Greek food and culture.

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READ MORE: Reese Fallon, 18, identified as victim of Danforth shooting

The 24-7 crisis line typically receives about 30 to 40 calls a day, said Brar, director of the Victim Crisis Response Program, who expected that counsellors would field the majority of calls Monday evening as fallout from the incident prompted more people to reach out for help.

“It could be victims who are directly impacted who were there, it could be the families of the injured, the families of the deceased,  ndividuals working in the area, passing by, or people deeply impacted by just hearing about this,” she said.

VIDEO: Danforth shooting suspect identified as 29-year-old Faisal Hussain

Click to play video: 'Danforth shooting suspect identified as 29-year-old Faisal Hussain' Danforth shooting suspect identified as 29-year-old Faisal Hussain
Danforth shooting suspect identified as 29-year-old Faisal Hussain – Jul 23, 2018

For those directly involved in a tragic incident like the Greektown shooting, the most prevalent emotions expressed are usually anger, fear and guilt – “the guilt of ‘I shouldn’t have gone there’ or ‘I should have left early’… or ‘I should have done more,”‘ Brar explained.

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“We talk people through it. So it’s having a conversation that supports and is empathetic, but also talks about the reality of the situation or any of those things that are adding to their stress.”

READ MORE: 3 killed, including gunman, in mass shooting on Toronto’s Danforth

The crisis line also gets calls from people who are so rattled by such a violent incident, they say they’re afraid to leave home, Brar said. “They can sometimes even be not in Toronto.”

Kamkar said those who are experiencing fear, anxiety or other disturbing emotions in reaction to the spate of violence that has rocked the city should “engage in proactive coping strategies” – maintaining their daily routine, practising self-care and seeking support by staying connected with family and friends.

“When we hear of increasing incidents, it actually can increase vulnerability,” she said, advising that if symptoms persist, professional help should be sought.

The Victim Services Toronto crisis line can be reached by calling 416-808-7066.

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